Finding Goldstein cousins who survived the Holocaust is the highlight and most gratifying success of my genealogical research. Here’s how it happened:
Clue Number 1: Grandpa Sol Goldstein had told me that the family name in Poland was “Goldshtern” (Goldsztern in Polish). The name was written as “Goldstein” on his brother Shimon’s ship manifest in about 1901; when brothers Meier and Sol arrived, they changed to “Goldstein” to be like Shimon.
Clue Numbers 2-7: Yad Vashem has “Pages of Testimony” recording information about loved ones lost in the Shoah. These Pages contain the submitter’s name, contact information and relation to the deceased. Yad Vashem also has lists of ghetto residents, taxpayers, those who were persecuted, and more.
It takes time to digitize and upload the thousands of records that exist, so I periodically return to the Yad Vashem website to see what’s new. In late September 2019 I did so and found several Pages of Testimony that had been submitted in 1999 by a woman named Pnina Goldshtern Shaufer. There were five Pages for individual Goldshtern’s from Terespol and/or Brest, all clearly related to each other; I found two more Goldshtern’s in lists of residents and persecuted people in Brest from 1940-41. They were all from the family of Asher and Devorah Goldsztern of Terespol, Poland. Scans of all these documents can be found in the previous post, “The Creation and Destruction of the Family of Uszer (Asher) Goldsztern.”
Yad Vashem also yielded two Pages of Testimony filled out by a man named Shraga Goldshtein, formerly Goldshtern, for his father Yaakov and sister Rivke. Again, the same family. His address was in Efrat, but I couldn’t verify that he still lived there.
A lot of dots were being connected and I had a strong suspicion that this Asher Goldshtern was my Grandfather’s older brother, Uszer Goldsztern. But suspicion is not confirmation, so I got to work.
I read Hebrew well enough to make out the handwriting on the Pages of Testimony, with some effort. Pnina listed an address in Kiryat Bialik, so I checked online Israeli phone books but didn’t find her name. I did find her street in Kiryat Bialik, and so with some trepidation and the hope that Pnina still lived there twenty years after submitting the Pages of Testimony, I sent a letter to the address.
My letter to Pnina arrived in Israel on October 23 and the following day I woke up to this email:
Pnina, our mother, was very glad and excited to receive your letter, and also us. We would like to talk with you in phone. Can you please write us your telephone number?
Best wishes and thank you,
Tova & Kobi
Positively breathless with anticipation and the excitement of discovery and success, I sent them my phone number as quickly as I could.
That very afternoon I was in a meeting at a local coffee shop when Pnina’s son Kobi called. I practically ran out of the coffee shop and sat in the parking lot in my car talking with him, his sister Tova and mother Pnina for almost an hour. Kobi said their English wasn’t great, so we spoke in Hebrew. Pnina, speaking faster and faster in her excitement, kept saying, “I have relatives!” She said she had been hoping all these years that someone else had survived, maybe in the US. We quickly established that our grandfathers were indeed brothers, making us second cousins. I learned that Shraga Goldshtein is Pnina’s brother, they gave me his address and I began an email conversation with him.
By very fortunate coincidence, my husband Bruce and I had already planned to spend the month of February 2020 in Israel, so we arranged to meet these new cousins.
Our first Sunday in Israel, with a wintry Mediterranean Sea crashing on the beach outside, we met Shraga in a quiet corner of the Dan Hotel on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv. He and his wife Natalya brought their 14-year old granddaughter Roni Boochboot, who loves family history and had skipped school to meet us. It was an emotional meeting but joyous and exciting, so three hours went by in a flash; I felt like I’d known these delightful people for years. Shraga’s blue eyes reminded me of my dad’s and Natalya noted a similarity between Shraga’s and my eyes.
Shraga is 80 years old, was a CPA and with his wife Natalya lived in Kiryat Motzkin near Haifa until they moved to Efrat, where they lived for 30 years. His name was originally Fayvel, after Berl Fayvel, our great-grandfather; it was changed to “Shraga” when he started high school (his last name is “Goldshtein” and not “Goldshtern” due to a clerical error). They are observant, active, love to travel and very involved with their family and community. They have three married daughters, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. About six years ago they moved to Givat Shmuel to be closer to daughters Iris and Vered.
Many stories were told on both sides about who was who, what happened when and so forth, and I gave them a copy of my book, “The Goldsztern Family,” with documents and family trees. We said a heartfelt Shehechiyanu (“Blessed is God who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this moment”).
A few days later Bruce was going to meet with a Medical Physics colleague at the Sheba Medical Center, not far from Givat Shmuel, so Shraga and Natalya invited me to visit them while Bruce was engaged. Sheba is a huge, confusing medical complex but Shraga finally found me chatting with an old man at a bus stop and when Bruce finished there, he joined us at their apartment. Daughter Iris Gerber came over during her lunch break to meet me. Later Shraga picked up three grandchildren from school, Roni’s younger siblings Shir and twins Har’el and Hadar. We had lunch on their balcony with a view of Tel Aviv in the distance (which was the selling point when they first saw this apartment), and then daughter Vered Boochboot came to pick up her kids. We shared photos and stories and I got more of a sense of who they are as people. Shraga loves to travel, to study, to sing, has written some songs and is devoted to his family. Natalya is vivacious and warm, likes to paint and is a graphologist. The kids were adorable and Har’el insisted on telling me that he is a whole three minutes older than his twin sister. I felt like we would all be friends if we lived closer.
About a week later we met Pnina, her husband Pinchas, daughter Tova and son Kobi. They live near Haifa in Kiryat Bialik, named for Israel’s national poet, Haim Nachman Bialik. Pnina was about 85 years old and had had serious health issues in the last year; sadly, she died soon after we met, at the end of April 2020. Nevertheless, that night she was lively, gracious and smiled non-stop. Her daughter Tova Shaufer is a special education teacher who lives around the corner and has a recently married son, Aviv Rappaport. Pnina’s son Kobi (Yaakov) is an attorney in Ramat HaSharon but lately, has been caring for his frail parents in Kiryat Bialik. Like Pnina, her husband Pinchas survived the war as a child, he in Siberia and she in Kazakhstan.
We began our visit with Tova at her apartment, where, after a split-second of uncertainty whether to hug someone at first meeting, we simultaneously decided to do just that. Tova was so warm and hospitable! We told stories to explore our connection and looked at photos of her son’s recent wedding. After a delicious dinner we walked 200 meters up the street to her parents’ home to meet Pnina, Pinchas and Kobi.
There Pnina, who gave me a long, long, long hug and repeated, “You’ve given me back half my life.” She had long ago given up hope of ever finding surviving family. Now, as if hearing the words out loud confirmed the truth, Pnina declared with wonder, “We have relatives! We have relatives!” I was gripped with relief, delight, and disbelief at the reality of finding and actually meeting her.
As Pnina held my hand, we sat around the table, eating cake, drinking tea, laughing, sharing stories, getting to know each other, marveling at the connection of family and quietly sharing a sense of wondrous delight. And of course, here we also said a Shehechiyanu. It was with a great deal of reluctance that we said goodbye at the end of the evening and drove back to the Palm Beach Hotel in Akko.
A week later we were in Jerusalem and Shraga asked if we would like to meet his oldest daughter Ronit Ginsberg in Efrat, a charming hilltop suburb 18 kilometers away. He asked if we were afraid to go there, saying that in the 30 years they lived there, his sister Pnina only visited once. Although we generally do not go to the Occupied Territories, we did not hesitate; meeting and getting to know our newly discovered family was our sole priority.
Shraga said that coming into Jerusalem to pick us up during rush-hour would be a nightmare, so he arranged to meet us outside the Malha Mall, near a major highway. He was not wrong about the rush-hour nightmare, which we endured on the cab ride to the mall. We sat immobilized by endless roadwork and traffic jams taking place literally on every street. Our cab driver treated (subjected?) us to a back-alley tour of the neighborhoods of Rehavia and Kiryat Shmuel, the congested area around the Knesset, Israel Museum and Hebrew University, and God only knows where else, before finally dropping us off on the street in front of the mall, with no minutes to spare. Shraga whizzed up and we hopped in and headed south, driving past Rachel’s Tomb and Bethlehem to Efrat via Highway 60, the “Tunnel” road. Once there, we spent a pleasant evening with Ronit, her husband Dudu and son Shai, recently discharged from the army. Shraga drove us back to Jerusalem through the starry night and the Judaean Hills. There he dropped us at our friends’ apartment around the corner from the King David Hotel, and we said a last goodbye. We fervently hope to be able to meet again once the world returns to whatever “normal” will look like when COVID-19 is behind us.
At the Regional Cemetery in Holon-Bay Yam there is a memorial to our familial towns of Terespol and Piszczac, Poland, placed there by Survivors. Pnina and Pinchas placed a memorial plaque for the Goldshtern family in their synagogue in Kiryat Bialik, “Hadrat Kodesh.”
Our personal memorial to our family is our re-connection with the Goldshtern’s, reuniting a family separated by immigration, time, and the Shoah. Seeing the look on Pnina’s face, hearing her longing for just such a reunion, being graced with the memories that were unlocked, maintaining our connection – these are the ultimate memorial.
Note: If you would like to see photos of our visit, let me know in the “Comments” section.