Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bialystok home for the aged

The return address on the 1937 postcard from Reizel is a street address in Bialystok, followed by the words “Dom Starcow”, which translate as “home for the aged”. Bialystok is a big city, and at the time, it was one of the major centers of Jewish life in Poland. What was Reizel doing there? And how did she end up in a home for the aged (rather than living with family, as most people seem to have done in those days)?  We may never be able to answer these questions, but given the size and importance of the Bialystok Jewish community, I know that there must have been records from these communal organizations. The question is – did any of these records survive the war?
There is an extensive web-page for the Bialystok Region Jewish Genealogy Group.  Volunteers have translated, indexed and posted numerous documents, including the 1938 Bialystok telephone directory, the 1946 list of survivors from Bialystok, a “Bialystok martyrs list”, business directories from 1895, 1903, and 1929, the 1897 Russian census of the region, the list of Bialystok children transported from Theresenstadt to Auschwitz in 1943, a list of property seized between 1945-49, and a list of names from a yahrzeit list compiled by the Bialystoker center in New York City. With the wonders of modern technology, I can sit at my computer in Arizona and, within 30 minutes, check all these lists for our relatives. There are no Korenbaums on any of them. I also don’t find anything that mentions a Jewish old age home, although there are dozens of books about Jewish Bialystok. We can probably find something there, but it will take months or years to find and read all of the books.
Jewishgen has a number of listserves for people doing Jewish genealogical research. I post a note to the Bialystok list, asking if anyone can direct me to information about a Bialystok home for the aged.
I receive only one response, from someone named Piotr, who I realize is in Poland. He directs me to an online list of Jewish properties in Bialystok, part of the website of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. I wonder if Piotr works at the museum, but his email signature translates (thank you, Google translate) to “Events for you and your child in Warsaw”.  You never know who’s going to answer when you post to a list like this.
The webpage (in Polish) is labeled: Lista nieruchomości pożydowskich w Białymstoku
There are 30 or 40 properties listed.
About half-way down the list, I find the address from Reizel’s postcard:
ul. Kupiecka 32, mieściła się tam instytucja charytatywna "Cdoko gdejlo"
Google translate tells me that this means: Commerce St 32, housed a charity named “Cdoko gdejlo”.
I email Piotr again; does he have any idea what “Cdoko gdejlo” means? and does he have any idea where I might find more information about these organizations? He answers that it does not sound like Russian or Polish, but might be Yiddish. He says nothing about my second question.
I ask my father if he can figure out what Cdoko gdejlo might be in Yiddish? With his little bit of Polish, he is able to sound out the words, and realizes that they are “Tzedekah Gedalia”.  He speculates that someone named Gedalia gave money to found a charity, or someone founded a charity in Gedalia’s honor or memory. A few days later, I go back to the Museum website, and look around some more. I find a short description of Jewish organizations in Biaystok, that mentions the formation, in 1869, of Cedaka Gedola (Hebrew for “great” or “big” charity), to provide aid to the sick and needy.
There are also several other Jewish organizations nearby:
Kupiecka 21 (dziś ul. Malmeda), z budynkiem Szkoły Żeńskiej Chaima Bogdanowskiego  (Commerce St, now Malmeda Street, the female school building Chaim Bogdanowski)
Kupiecka 27, z budynkiem "Dwir" Mordechaja Bojarskiego (the building of “Dwir” Mordechai Bojarski)
Kupiecka 49, internat Białostockiego Stowarzyszenia dla Opieki nad Sierotami (Bialystok Association for the Care of Orphans)
Kupiecka 42, z budynkiem szkoły Tora we-Daet J.M. Rubinsztajna (the school building, Torah v’daat, J.M. Rubinstein)
From this list, I learn that Jewish communities have not changed much. Jewish schools, social service agencies and homes for the aged are often still located near each other, in “compounds” like this. And then, like now, the agencies were named for the wealthy members of the community.
In terms of our family story, I learn only that Reizel was living in a home owned by a Jewish charity.  Learning more about that charity, and finding any records it left behind, will be a much greater search.

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