The picture of my grandfather’s family was sent to me by another one of my 2nd cousins. We had never seen this picture as my grandfather didn’t keep any family photos. My cousin had, like my father and my uncles, undertaken some serious work to find more information about the family. She knew the names of the other children. That’s Rebecca, the youngest on the far left and Shael, the oldest sitting next to his wife and holding their children. Their names were not known to us and neither was their fate.
Julius, my grandfather, had traveled to Latvia in 1931 on a trip that he took to Europe and Palestine. My father remembered that Julius met his brother Shael and his family and we also had heard that Rebecca had died although the circumstances of her death were a matter of question. But, all other genealogical research seemed to reach a dead end. Specific details were known in some cases but there was so much that we didn’t know and couldn’t find out.
Just as the discovery of my second cousins started with a coincidence (if you believe in coincidences…) as my friend found her husband’s picture, this part of the story also starts with a chance discovery. Every few months, I would do an internet search on Daugavpils Jewish community sometimes throwing in the name Dobrusin to see if we could get more details of life in that town. This time, though, I saw a story about the rebuilding of a synagogue in Daugavpils and the story mentioned a name I knew well. One of the people involved in that project was a friend who used to live in Ann Arbor whose father was born in Daugavpils. I called him and we talked for a while about what he knew about the city and then I told him of our genealogical quest. He gave me the name and email of a researcher that he had been working with in the Latvian state archives. He told me she might be able to help.
Sure enough, she responded with a willingness to search the archives and for a small fee (try wiring money from Michigan to Latvia- it’s not so easy), the search began.
A few weeks later, I received an email from her asking me if I knew the name Schewel Dobrusin who was living in the area in the 30s. I assumed Shael and Schewel were the same person and she told me that she had some information for us which would be coming in the mail.
On a Shabbat morning, when I was on vacation and happened to be home, the mailman rang the bell and told me he had a registered letter for me from Latvia. I took the envelope and took several deep breaths, holding onto it, knowing that it was possible that it contained answers to questions which had plagued our family for decades. I thought about my father and my uncle and how they might have reacted to what was inside.
I opened it and our family history was all there. My great grandparents Itzik and Hilta, their five children, Schewel (Shael), Jewel (Julius), Laizer(Louie), Hannah (Annie) and Rivka (Rebecca). Birthdates, address in Daugavpils, occupation- all of it was there.
What was most important was that the records indicated that Shael and his family had moved to another town, Preili, with his wife, Luba and their three children Haim, Sora and Moisey.
The little boy in the picture on his father’s knee is Haim, my father’s first cousin. My father’s name was also Haim and presumably they were both named for Hilta’s father whose name is recorded in the archival material. The little baby is Sora. Moisey was not born yet and, sadly, there is no more information about him.
But, Haim grew up to marry Maria and they had a child Joseph, my second cousin.
Sora, grew to marry a man name Avram Ya’akov and they had a daughter Luba, named I assume for her grandmother, Shael’s wife who had died in the early 30s.
Then, the piece to the story which was inevitable. Schewel, his children and his grandchildren all were killed in mass exterminations by the Nazis in Preili in the summer of 1941.
That statement I had always made: “We don’t have any close family we know of who died in the Holocaust” is now obviously untrue. Truth is, we knew all along that it was likely that any family members who survived to the late 30s probably did not survive the Holocaust but without names, without proof, it was not real. Now it is. And now, while Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Memorial Day, was always a sad day, now it is sad in a personal sense. I do not know how I will feel. But, I will light yahrzeit candles not for the Holocaust victims as a whole but for Shael, Haim, Maria, Joseph, Sora, Avram Ya’akov, Luba and for her two younger siblings whose names are not known as they were born after the census of 1935 but who are recorded as having been killed on that horrible day in 1941 in Preili.
I had plans to go to Israel on a study program this summer. Those plans, I think, have been put on hold. I want to go to Daugavpils and Preili. There are no Dobrusins to meet and one would assume no evidence of their having lived there. But, I want to stand where they stood, mourn their loss and let them and everyone know they are not forgotten. There is one more piece to the story which I’ll save for part 3.