As we plan a visit to our ancestral towns, we hope against hope that someone may still be in these towns with a memory of the Jewish people who once lived there—if not of our own families, at least of our landslayt (fellow Jews)—and that we can make a small connection across the miles and the years.
The ties we may find while we are in our ancestral town are potentially powerful ones, but, for me, an even more powerful connection took place years later—as a result of my trip—through the network of shtetl websites and projects such as Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, with its “Your Town” pages for each of the towns whose records are in the database.
In 1998, I traveled to Poland with two Israeli cousins, 77-year-old Jeremiah Jaskolka, a Holocaust survivor who I had found two years before (see “Finding Jeremiah,” AVOTAYNU, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Winter 1997) and Yuval Ben-Dror, a sabra (native-born Israeli) cousin. Among the places we visited was Nur, a small village in southeast Lomza guberniya, where my mother, Jeremiah’s father and Yuval’s grandfather had been born.
Upon my return from Poland, I sent a set of scanned photographs of the trip as well as a short narrative to a number of Nur landslayt, including Gaby Guri of Israel who maintains a Nur shtetl site <www.geocities.com/Heartland/Park/9749/nur.html>. In 2002, Gaby forwarded me an e-mail message that had been sent to me through the website from Joseph Piotrowski in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. Its subject line was “Searching for Lejbek Orlinsky from Nur, Poland”
“I have a first cousin who lives in Nur, Lucyna Jastrzbeskie,” he wrote. “Her father, Antoni Jastrzbeskie, found Lejbek Orlinsky on September 24, 1942, when he was one and a half years old. He grew up in the Jastrzbeskie family household until he was about five years old. In 1947, his Aunt Kosorer took him to live with her in Bialystok. Lejbek’s mother’s maiden name was Kalino and his father’s name was Srulek Orlinsky. My cousin Lucyna would like to know if you know of him or of his whereabouts. I will be looking for your reply with great appreciation.”
I wrote immediately to Yale Reisner of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation Genealogy Project at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. He quickly sent me valuable information, obtained from a report of the Koordinatsia in the Archives of the Ghetto Fighters House, Beit Lochamei haGetaot, Israel <www.gfh.org.il/eng>. The Koordinatsia was an organization set up immediately after World War II to find and “redeem” Jewish children who had been hidden by Polish families during the war. It said:
Lejb Orlinsky, born 1940, son of Israel (Srul) Orlinsky and Fajga (née Kalina) was in a ghetto until 1942 when the family fled to the forest. The parents were killed, possibly by Polish peasants. Lejb was found in the woods by two Poles who turned him over to some Germans, but they apparently let him live. He was redeemed by the Coordinating Committee for the Redemption of Jewish Children (Koordinatsia) in May 1946 for 50,000 zlotys from a Polish farmer and was taken to the Jewish children’s home in Lodz at 88 Piotrkowska Street, on 14 July 1946. On 8 August 1946, he was released to an uncle. He was said to have relatives in the Bronx, NY: Ms. R. Rosenbaum and Mr. A. Bloom.
With this information, I tried in vain to find these relatives, but the names were too common. Queries to the Nur landslayt and researchers also yielded no information. I sent the information from the Koordinatsia file to Joseph Piotrowski and promised that if any additional clues came my way, I would pursue them, but I didn’t hold out too much hope.
Little did I know then that there was no way I could have found Lejb Orlinsky at the time that Joseph Piotrowski first made his inquiry. Three years passed before the name Orlinsky crossed my path again.
As part of my work with Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, I serve as Town Leader and Shtetl CO-OP Coordinator for Nur. A link to my e-mail address is on the JRI-Poland “Your Town” page for Nur. In May 2006, I received a brief e-mail query through that link from a man in Israel named Arie Apel. “I wanted to know if you can check the origins of Jewish people who lived in Nur village in Poland until World War II,” he asked. I wrote back and asked for the family names he was seeking. He responded immediately: “Here are the names: Israel Orlinsky; Fela (Phela) Orlinsky; Leon Orlinsky; from Nur village, Poland.”
I had saved my 2002 correspondence with Joseph Piotrowski and Yale Reisner, and I immediately replied to Arie, sending him the message from Joseph (which contained Joseph’s cousin Lucyna’s address in Nur) as well as the message from Yale with the information from the Koordinatsia file. I thought they might be of some interest. “Do you know anything about this Lejb Orlinsky?” I wrote, pointing out that “Lejb” was often the Yiddish name for the Polish “Leon,” and “Srul” was short for “Israel.” Arie’s answer came the very next morning. “Now I can tell you, according to the information that you conveyed to me that my genuine name is Leon Orlinsky. I will tell you my story which I was told only a month ago.”
Arie had been adopted after the war. His adopted mother, Rosalia Apel, had died two months before. One month after Rosalia’s death, Arie’s cousin had disclosed to him a family secret that Rosalia had made everyone keep from him for 60 years. “I discovered that I am an adopted child and that my real name is Leon Orlinsky, and my biological parents names were Israel and Fela Orlinsky,” Arie wrote me. “Your e-mail enclosed my past and my history which I did not know.” The only thing he knew was that he was born and raised in Nur village and that he had been in a Polish peasant’s house. He also remembered staying in an orphanage in Lodz and his “father” taking him out of it.
“It’s amazing that your story is comparable to the story that I was told,” he wrote me, “yet I have some unanswered questions that I hope you can help me to solve.” He was told that he had a sister who was three or four years older than he. “I don’t know her name or anything else about her,” Arie wrote. “Are there any relatives in Nur village or somewhere else? Is there any way to get any pictures of my family or me?” In essence, Leon Orlinsky had been hidden twice—once from the Nazis and once from himself. Even if my earlier search had reached him, he would not have recognized his original name.
Arie wrote that he was planning to try to contact Joseph Piotrowski who had sent me the e-mail in 2002, in order to talk with Joseph’s cousin in Nur. Arie also wrote that he had an old envelope sent in the 1950s from a J. Sulkov in New York whom he believed was a cousin. Could I possibly find this family?.
I had a number of avenues to pursue. Birth, marriage, and death records for Nur until 1935 had survived, but unfortunately not for 1937, the year Arie’s sister had been born. Arie says his sister was three or four years older. How can you be certain which year it was? In my own comprehensive research on my family lines from the town, I had already gathered information on Arie’s mother’s Kalina family. His mother, Fejga (Fela) Kalina, had a sister Malka who had married Zysel Friedman, third cousin of my grandmother, Rivka Jaskolka. So I knew that Fejga and Malka’s father was Lejb Kalina, and their mother had been Leja Dolobowska.
When I sent this information to Arie, he replied that his adopted mother’s maiden name had also been Dolobowska. Further research revealed that his birth mother and his adopted mother had been first cousins. In fact, his adopted mother, Rosalia, had submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem for a number of her Dolobowsky relatives—but not for Arie’s mother or aunt. Curious. Do you think she did not know the relationship to Arie?
Starting with the Sulkov clue from the old envelope, I set out to use Internet white pages to track down what I hoped would be Arie’s family. I started with a member of the family in Florida, and when I mentioned the names “Bloom” and “Rubenstein” from the orphanage file, I struck a chord. Joseph Sulkov had been married to Fanny Bloom. (The connection to Rubenstein came two calls later.) The first cousin to whom I spoke referred me to another in southern California, who then referred me to a woman on Long Island. When I asked her if she had ever heard the name Dolobowski, she gasped. “That was my grandmother’s maiden name. I haven’t thought of it in years.” She also remembered stories of the war orphan and added, “and there was a girl, too.” But she couldn’t remember the name of Arie’s sister.
Meanwhile Arie had made contact with Lucyna Jasztrebskie, the daughter of the family who had hidden him during the war. Since Arie could still speak Polish well, the two could easily converse over the telephone. After the two had spoken, Arie told me that the first thing Lucyna said to him was “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Even though Arie had been a very young child during his time in hiding, his memories of those years were not good ones. He recalled being made to sleep in the barn with animals, being fed scraps from the table, and being picked on by members of the family.
Lucyna’s parents remembered this too. She told Arie that before they died, they made her promise to try to find the boy they remembered as Leon and apologize to him for the way he had been treated when they hid him during the war. She was determined to keep that promise, and started by asking her American cousin Joseph to help search on the Internet.
Arie, his wife Hadassah, and their two sons journeyed to Nur in the summer of 2006 to visit with Lucyna; her sister Julianna, who lives in nearby Czyzew; and other townspeople. They found people who remembered his family and who pointed out ornamental ironwork that his father had created years ago. Arie had gone to Nur in the hope that somebody would remember his sister’s name. This hope was not fulfilled. Neighbors remembered the girl, and that Fejga and her daughter had been killed, but not the girl’s name.
Although Arie and his family members continue to speculate on why his adopted mother refused to tell him he was adopted, and why she had forbidden other family members to tell him, one conclusion remains. “If I had known this 30 or even 20 years ago,” he told me, “somebody might have still been alive who knew my sister’s name.”
Arie and Lucyna speak by telephone regularly now, but questions still linger for him. He asked me to write this article in the hope that it may help him get answers to some of these questions. Arie’s parents, Srul Orlinsky and Fejga Kalina, were born in Nur in 1905–06. Might anyone have school photographs from Nur or nearby Ciechanowiec that would show youngsters of that vintage? Is there anyone still alive who was born in Nur or Ciechanowiec in or near 1937 who remembers a little girl whose last name was Orlinsky? It took three years to find an answer to Joseph Piotrowski’s first e-mail seeking Lejbek Orlinsky. I am hoping that somehow the answers to Arie’s questions are out there waiting for the connection to be made.
Judy Baston is on the Board of Directors of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland and Moderator of the Litvak SIG Discussion Group. She has been doing family history research for more than 20 years. She lives in San Francisco. .