My Fiszbin family from Lubartów

by Olivier Szlos

My grandmother, Etla Hekier Szlos, was born in Lubartów. I discovered the existence of Chaja Sura Fiszbin, one of her sisters, while searching for the Hekier family name in the 1932 population register. For the past forty five years, I’ve been researching my family tree and each new discovery is an incredible emotional moment. That feeling was at its strongest upon this finding of a grandaunt, a contemporary of my grandparents and parents. To the joy of having discovered another sister of my grandmother’s, I can’t help but feel sad that no one in my family today has any memory of her existence, nor that of her children. It was to rescue from oblivion this branch of my family from oblivion that I began this biographical research. Thanks to the Lubartworld project and the archives the team is working on, in particular the population register of 1932, I am now able to introduce you to my Fiszbin family.

The Fiszbin family in the 1932 register

Page of the 1932 register © Archiwum Państwowe w Lublinie

The principal source of information regarding the Fiszbin family is on page 97, volume 4 of the register of population movements of the city of Lubartów created in 1932. We learn that they lived on Lubelska Street, house number 23, apartment number 1, not far from the synagogue located at number 12. Lubelska Street leads to the market square, the Rynek in Polish. It is both the main street of Lubartów and a real microcosm of Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Orthodox.

My grandmother’s brother-in-law, Moszek Fiszbin, is listed as the head of the household. He was the son of Szaja Fiszbin and Malka Ruda, born on January 31, 1888 in Warsaw. In 1932, he was 44 years old and a shoemaker by trade. Moszek is the only member of his family who is not native to Lubartów. We learn that my grandmother’s sister was born on August 25, 1883. In the absence of the 1883 Lubartow Jewish birth register, which is not online at the Polish State Archives, the 1932 register becomes the invaluable resource of information we need to find individuals whose existence has been forgotten, especially women who have no individual rights and therefore whose births may not be registered for it is not a necessity, and when they marry they take their new spouse’s name. In genealogy, the toughest brick wall to break can be to find a woman’s maiden name.

Their first child was a girl, Bajla Malka was born March 16, 1912 but she’s not in the 1932 register, her fate is unknown at present. A second girl, Gitla Golda, was born on August 14, 1914 while the Austro-Hungarian troops were fighting the Russian army a dozen kilometers from Lubartów. A year later, the Russians, who had ruled Poland since 1795, were driven out of Lubartów. The third child was a son, Abram Szaja, born on March 4, 1916. Austrian and German military troops occupied Poland before it regained its independence on November 11, 1918. The war continued in the region between the new Poland and the new Soviet republics. Their fourth child, Dawid, was born on August 8, 1919. Only after Dawid’s birth did Moszek Fiszbin go to the town hall to declare all of his children’s births. The last child, Dyna Rajzla, was born on October 10, 1923.

With migration away from Lubartow, keeping family ties

Chaja Sura Hekier Fiszbin is the fifth of twelve children and the third daughter of Dawid Hekier, a shoemaker who died in 1916, and of Dyna Rajzla Apfelman who died about 1915. In the Ashkenazi tradition, the mother has the privilege of choosing her children’s first names, most often named after one or several recently deceased family members, a concrete way to preserve family memory. Chaja Sura named her child Gitla Golda, probably in honor of her maternal grandmother Gitla Golda Wajnszelbaum Apfelman who died around 1900. In the same tradition, three of Gitla Golda Fiszbin’s first cousins were given this name: Golda Gitla Hekier born in 1917 in Lubartów and daughter of Chaja Sura’s brother, Hersz Berek Hekier and his wife Chaja Cyrla Szofel; Golda Gitla Cohen known as Gertrude born in 1919 in New York and the daughter of Abram Cohen and Brucha Hekier, Chaja Sura’s older sister; Golda Gitla Szlos better known as Germaine born in 1926 in Paris and the daughter of Nuchym Szlos and Etla Hekier, my grandmother and Chaja Sura’s youngest sister.

Two of these Golda Gitla were born in New York and Paris, not in Lubartow. As a matter of fact, all four of Chaja Sura’s sisters moved out of Lubartów and thus are not included in the 1932 population register. The eldest, Brucha, according to my dad, had a broken heart from a love affair that ended badly and sent her to New York in 1906 with other Lubartówians where she married Abraham Cohen. In 1923, Etla left for Paris with her two-year-old daughter and rejoined with her husband Nuchym Szlos, who lived at 33 rue de L’Orillon, where Mathis Pachulski had offered a place to stay to his landsman. She was followed to Paris by her sister Jechweit and her husband Abram Poziomczyk between 1924 and 1926. And sister Chawa, who married in Lubartów, emigrated with her two children around 1931-1932 to rejoin with her husband Dawid Leibish Wolman. Only one of her brothers, Jankel, together with his wife Rosa Zytto, left Lubartów for Buenos Aires at the end of the 1930s, after having lived in Ostrów Lubelski, and joined other Hekier cousins who were already established in Buenos Aires. For Moszek and Chaja Sura Fiszbin, there was no emigration.

These four sisters, Chaja Sura, Brucha, Chawa and Etla, maintained family ties and memory through their children’s given names. Chaja Sura named her oldest son after her husband’s father and her second son after her father Dawid. My father, David Szlos, first cousin of Dawid Fiszbin, was given this name at his birth in 1924 in Paris, as was another cousin, Dawid Hekier, who we learn from the 1932 register that he emigrated to Argentina in 1936. Dyna Rajzla Fiszbin was named after her grandmother. As well as her cousins Dyna Rajzla Szlos, daughter of Nuchym Szlos and Etla Hekier, born in 1921 in Lublin and Dyna Rajzla Wolman, daughter of Dawid Leibish Wolman and Chawa Hekier, born in 1922 in Lubartów, both known as Rosette became young women in Paris. This tradition of honoring deceased loved ones unites families in time across the years and distances. It is also a way to pass on family history through oral tradition. For example, Gertrude, whom I met in Florida, told me that her mother Brucha used to tell her about Lubartów and often said in Yiddish, “Nicht fargesn Gitel Golde!” (Don’t forget Gitla Golda!, her namesake).

The Fiszbin family story through photos

In 1936, Abram Szaja applied at Lubartow City Hall for an identity card. At the age of 20, he worked in a hairdressing salon. He is single and is said to live at number 23 Pilsudskiego Street (previously named Lubelska Street) with his family. His sister Dyna Rajzla also filed for an identity card in 1939. She is 16 years old then and in school, and has a beautiful legible signature that indicates a mastery of the ink pen. These documents include photographs that help us put a face to the names of these two young people.

ID photos on card applications of Abram Szaja Fiszbin, 1936, and Dyna Rajzla Fiszbin, 1939 © rights reserved

Furthermore, with these two photographs, we can examine the book of memories of Lubartów (Hurbn Levertov) published in Paris in 1947 by the Association Les Amis de Lubartów. The book contains many photographs given to the editors by survivors, such as my grandmother. But many of the first names we could use to identify the people are not indicated. This is the case for a photo on page 18 where it says, in Yiddish: “Mosze Fiszbin and his family”. Thanks to the photographs on the Lubartów identity card applications, it becomes possible to identify Dyna Rajzla and Abram Szaja in that book photo and by deduction their parents and siblings.

This Fiszbin family photo is from the book of memories. Standing left to right: Abraham Szaja Fiszbin, Gitla Golda Fiszbin, Dawid Fiszbin, and seated left to right: Chaja Sura Hekier Fiszbin, Dyna Rajzla Fiszbin, Moszek Fiszbin

When I look at this studio photo of the Fiszbin family taken in the 1930s in Lubartów, I notice that they had adopted a lifestyle that I would call modern, at least for posing for the photograph: the men do not sport a beard, the married women do not seem to have a sheytel (wig). I don’t see the full-body dark clothing or kipa, which I might have expected to find since that’s the case for Chaja Sura’s brother’s family photo in this same book. I imagine Moszek buys suits, shirts and ties from the tailor for his sons. The youngest daughter Dyna wears a beautiful dress with a pattern that evokes butterflies. The eldest, Golda, has a necklace and a bracelet on her forearm and a hairstyle that looks fashionable. I notice that everyone has a very nice hairstyle, is it thanks to Abraham Szaja’s skills?

The Szlos, Poziomczyk and Wolman families in Paris, © Olivier Szlos, Studio Jérôme, 16 Avenue de la Porte de Clignancourt, 18eme, 1932. Standing left to right: David Szlos, Dyna Rajzla Rosette Szlos (born in Lublin), Jechweit Hekier (born in Lubartów), Abram Poziomczyk, Dyna Rajzla Rosette Wolman (born in Lubartów). Seated left to right: Gitla Golda Germaine Szlos, Etla Hekier (born in Lubartów), Albert Szlos, Nuchym Szlos, Chawa Hekier (born in Lubartów), Isaac Wolman (born in Lubartów), David Lejb Wolman (born in Lubartów)

This photograph reminds me of others I have of my family and I feel, when comparing it to this one taken in France in a Paris studio, that this image is of a family established in the 20th century world. Lubartow’s photo could have ultimately been taken in Paris or New York. Of course, the Fiszbin family photo is published in the memory book because this photo was sent to Paris. Fact is that there’s a free exchange of letters and photos sent by mail and carried by various family members on their trips between Lubartow and Paris, ideas, everyday practices, the latest family stories, and the latest fashions are shared across borders.

Dyna Rajzla Fiszbin in a 1938 class photo. Photo page 43 in the book by Ryszard J. Dumalo, Wojna, okupacja, wyzwolenie: Lubartów 1939-1949 (War, occupation, liberation: Lubartów 1939-1949), © rights reserved

Dyna Rajzla can be seen in a photo of class 7 of Lubartów’ school number 1 in 1938. She is standing in front of the blackboard, first on the left of the fourth row. This photo comes from a book on the history of Lubartów by R.J. Dumalo. Dyna Rajzla went to public school, which means that she spoke and wrote Polish fluently. One can assume that her school teachers were mostly Catholic, although in the class photo Josef Hersz Federbusz is identified as a Jew.  This teacher is found in the 1932 population register, where it is further noted that he is a teacher of the Jewish language (nauczyciel języka żydowskiego) i.e. Yiddish.

The Fiszbin have a target on their back because they were Jews

On September 20, 1939, German troops entered Lubartów and quickly set in motion the persecution of the Jews. Nothing from their experience living during the First World War will help the Fiszbins. On October 12, all Jewish residents of Lubartów were ordered to assemble in the main market square, the Rynek. It is just 30 days since their arrival in Lubartów and Wehrmacht soldiers proceeded to loot goods in stores and property in apartments and houses all day long. Between October 20 and November 5, the majority of Lubartów’s Jews were forced to leave their homes and apartments, expelled by the Germans to the surrounding villages of Parczew, Ostrow Lubelskie, Kock and Firlej. Those who remained were herded into an open ghetto bounded by Żabia, Listopada, Browarna, Poprzeczna and Lubelska streets within Lubartow. What about the Fiszbin family? Do they remain in Lubartów? Most likely, as the 1932 register reveals the address of 16 Rynek II street within the boundaries of the ghetto where the family seems to have relocated. Then the register tells us that Moszek Fiszbin died on November 15, 1941, without any further details. On April 9, 1942, the family of Moszek Aron Hekier, the brother of Chaja Sura, “moved” from Lubartów. This word, “wysiedlony” [moved], written in pencil in the register, along with the date April 9, 1942, makes it clear that they were among those deported at dawn on April 10 after being forced to spend the entire night outside. Moszek Aron, his wife Henia Rywa, their daughters Syla and Sura Laja were rounded up, forced onto a train bound for Belzec where they were terrorized, humiliated and killed in the gas chamber of this killing center.

In the 1932 register, the death of Dawid, the youngest of the Fiszbin sons, is recorded on December 28, 1942, the handwritten note tells us he died on August 12, 1942, four days after his 23rd birthday. The register does not indicate what happened to Gitla Golda, Dyna Rajzla and their mother Chaja Sura. This is a reminder that another deportation to one of the killing centers took place on October 11, 1942 in Lubartów, but it’s not mentioned in the register. While there are some written notes of the murders and deportations, many were also not added.

The name of Abram Szaja, the eldest son of Chaja Sura and Moszek Fiszbin, appears in the Majdanek archives. The young man was registered on June 4, 1943 by the DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke, German military supply workshops and factories) administered by SS soldiers at the Majdanek killing camp.

DAW index card Abram Fiszbin, Majdanek State Museum Archives © rights reserved

He is forced to work in a workshop to carve wooden clogs the Nazis gave to prisoners throughout the concentration camp system in Europe. It is not known when Abram Szaja arrived in Majdanek, but it can be said that from the time the Germans arrived in Lubartów in September 1939 until that date in the summer of 1943, he survived. But in the early morning of November 3, 1943, all the camp’s Jewish prisoners were rounded up and executed for several hours. Abram Szaja was most likely one of the victims murdered that day. He was 27 years old. This is where the Fiszbin story ends. The grave of the 18,000 people machine-gunned that day still exists today in Majdanek.

A name is proof of one life. A story is proof of many lives

When I was very young, I always had the impression that my parents talked about ghosts once or twice a year. Until I realized that the ghosts were my paternal grandfather and my mother’s three brothers and sister who were murdered in Auschwitz and Majdanek. Who were they? What was their life like? Who else was killed in the Holocaust? Who survived? My parents are the answer to this last question and from there a kind of quest about my own existence took place through my genealogical research. And in my commitment, which began more than forty years ago, the Lubartworld project offers answers and opens up possibilities that did not exist before. When we discovered Dyna Rajzla’s ID photo, my breath was taken away by the emotion of seeing the spitting image of two of my aunts. You expect to read a name, you don’t expect to recognize yourself in the eyes of an unexpected photo. But that’s where Lubartworld begins, because like me, the team members are asking questions similar to mine and also different, they want to understand the existence of Lubartow’s Jewish community, the one that stayed and the one that left. To identify individuals and families, to reveal their history, to research and integrate their existence into a historical context. It is not just my family, but all of our great families who are affected by their work and what they bring to us. In September 2003, I wrote to the New York Times in response to an article questioning a memorial to the dead of September 11, 2001. My thought in 2003 remains the same today: Names on a wall or in a book are necessary because they represent our victory against the annihilation that forces of evil tried to establish forever by the act of murder. It is even our duty. To read the story of a life, restores and affirms that life’s existence. And I will even go a step further. It seems to me that written history is no longer a domain reserved for people of importance, and that the little stories, the microhistory of ordinary people, complete our understanding of our world. My Fiszbin family is restored to our family history and it feels good. We can recite Kaddish for them on Yom Kippur.