Sunday, July 3, 2011

Who is Reizel?

We have two pieces of information about Reizel:
·      An old photograph that was in my grandmother’s papers. My father and aunt both remembered being told that this was a photo of Reizel. My father thought it was a photo of his mother’s mother who had died.  But looking at it now, we realize it is a photo of an older woman. And we know that Reizel was still alive in 1937. So this must be a photo of the woman who raised Gittel.
·      The postcard from Bialystok in 1937.

So who was Reizel Korenbaum?
I had dinner a few weeks ago with Doug and Tanja, Korenbaum cousins who live nearby. They found me through the Korenbaum family tree, and we have become friends. It’s nice to have family around, even though the relationship is a distant one (my great-grandfather and Doug’s great-great-grandmother were siblings). We took out the family tree and studied it together, trying to piece together the stories that they have heard from their branch of the family and the stories I’ve been gathering. We notice that there is a long gap between the siblings of Kalman’s generation – almost 15 years. There must have been other children who died, or perhaps there was a second wife? If the dates are accurate, the first child would have been born when the mother was young (less than 20) and the last when she was 47. While not impossible, it seems odd. Could Reizel have been the second wife? The family story was that Gittel was raised by her grandmother. If Reizel was Kalman’s mother, then she would be that grandmother. But then she would also be the mother of Kalman’s younger sister Channah, Doug’s great-great-grandmother. Tanja remembers that they have boxes of old photos and letters, that others in the family saved. She offers to look through them and see if there are any pictures of Channah and her mother, or of anyone who looks like the picture of Reizel.
I email this theory to Rich, the family historian. No, he says, he’s never heard of a second wife in that generation. As far as he knows, there was only one mother. And the dates are accurate, he says. They were written in a family bible, which unfortunately, has disappeared. The last person who had it donated it to a synagogue in the 1970’s, and Rich has not been able to locate it. According to that bible, Kalman was born in 1855. If Reizel had given birth to Kalman, when (let’s guess) she was 20, she would have been almost 100 when she wrote that letter in 1937. That seems unlikely.
Rich suggests that maybe Kalman remarried after being widowed, and Reizel, his second wife, raised his children as her own. This would fit with Liba’s being her daughter. If Reizel was a widow with a small child, she might have remarried and raised her daughter and her husband’s as siblings.
I tell my Dad these theories. “No, no,” he says adamantly, “Kalman never remarried.” Gittel never mentioned her father marrying again, and Usha, the cousin he interviewed in 1972, also said that Kalman never remarried.  My dad goes on, “He was a drunk. Who would have married him?” as if that fact is all we need to end the discussion.
But Kalman was in Warsaw (we think); Reizel was in Bialystok (at least in 1937). Maybe he did remarry and no one knew?
As I think about this more, I come up with a third theory. For years, my father was certain that his mother was raised by her mother’s family. Could Reizel have been her mother’s mother? Could Liba have been her mother’s younger sister (because in the photos she looks young)? But Reizel’s name is Korenbaum. What if Kalman had married a Korenbaum cousin? We know this did happen – Doug’s grandparents were first cousins (both Korenbaums) who were married to each other, in an arranged marriage. But we also know that all of Kalman’s siblings stayed in Maloryta, and married other people from the same town. Why would he break this pattern? Could he have left to marry a cousin elsewhere in Poland? We know that Kalman was the only sibling who left Maloryta, but we don’t know when (before or after his wife died). How did he end up in Warsaw? And how did Reizel end up in Bialystok?
None of the theories really make any sense. We need more information.

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