Before 1974 I knew very little about him and nothing about his parents or his grandparents.
I was 14 years old and I had had enough. I wanted to know. I needed to know. My grandfather David Raucher had never been in my life.
37 years later I would be standing in the overgrown ruins of a Jewish cemetery in Przemysl, Poland (Galicia).
My dad and his sister had been whisked away from New York City to Los Angeles by their mother as part of a contentious divorce that had ripped father from children. My dad was age 7 when he last saw his father. His younger sister was age 4. The year was 1942.
Over 30 years had passed without any contact between David and his children.
There weren't even any photos of him. Just stories. And most of those not flattering.
As a child, knowing all three of my other grandparents, I remember being disturbed that this grandparent was "missing". And worse, that no one seemed to know where he might be or if he was still alive.
"Why hadn't David ever tried to find us?" I asked myself. Did he know he was a grandfather? Did he care?
Despite the passing of over 30 years, my grandmother Annie still refused to talk about him.
While growing up I had heard a few details about David. He had been a sculptor in New York and ran a cafe in Greenwich Village called Jabberwocky. Here was the place where poets and artists would hang out. My great aunt, Annie's youngest sister, called David a libertine and labeled him irresponsible.
I was more determined than ever to find him.
I did not tell my dad or Annie that I got a NYC phonebook and wrote letters to all the "David Rauchers" that appeared in there.
A few weeks later, a strange letter arrived addressed to me. Both envelope and letter were written on aluminum foil !
How thrilling to think he was alive, still the artist, the black sheep, the eccentric!
And, David was coming out to California.
I broke the news to my dad. We never told Annie.
David arrived in a psychedelic-painted, old school bus. He was re-married to a woman almost half his age, and he had three children ranging in age from 5 to 11. I remember being both confused and amused that my father now had a half-brother and two half-sisters almost 30 years his junior.
And, I had an uncle and two aunts considerably younger than me!
Things couldn't have been more interesting!
David rented a house near us for an extended visit. I remember going over there several times in the next few months. It was all very emotional for my dad and his sister Esther. David said he had tried many times to get in contact with his children after the divorce, but had been prevented from seeing them. He said he had also traveled to California several times and written letters, all of which went unanswered. He did not know what to think.
There were a lot of tears during those visits and plenty of shouting. But somehow I understood that this was necessary to bridge the years, correct the misconceptions, and form a family again.
David brought with him photos none of us had ever seen.
Photos of David with my dad and his sister Esther...
Photos of them all laughing...
Photos of them as a family.
For more than 30 years years, and despite no word from his son or his daughter, David had still treasured these family photos.
By late fall 1974, David and his family returned to New York. Their "real" home was an old historic schoolhouse in upstate New York.
We had spent the summer together - getting to know each other - but now it was time for them to return home.
Less than a year later, we got a phone call from David's wife. David had passed away peacefully in his sleep of a heart attack.
Then 30 years passed.
I grew up, graduated college and law school, married, moved to San Francisco, divorced, re-married, and practiced law. I also continued to be fascinated and eager to learn about my family - all sides - and was fortunate that my grandmother Annie was still in my life.
The timing for research was right as the internet was growing with websites like Ellis Island and genealogy resources like Jewishgen, JRI Poland, and Gesher Galicia. Lots of records and resources were now at my fingertips.
I went online. I joined Jewish genealogy research groups.
I obtained passenger lists, naturalization documents, and vital records from many sources.
I learned that "Przemysl" in Galicia was the Old World "home" for my Raucher (Rauscher) family!
From these records, I learned a lot.
David's oldest son by his second wife (my dad's half-brother) Marcus was clearly named after David's father, Marcus Osias, whose 1883 birth record was now mine. My great grandfather!
Going deeper into the records, I discovered Selig Rauscher, the father of Marcus. My great-great grandfather!
Online, I found both Selig and Marcus buried together at Mt. Zion cemetery in Queens, New York.
I learned that as a young man in the "Village" (Greenwich Village) David had been a jeweler like his father Marcus and his grandfather Selig, both of whom had been born in Przemysl and emigrated to New York in the late 19th century.
I realized too why my father was named Tobin or "Toby" - he was named after David's mother Tillie.
I sat down with my grandmother Annie. She fondly recalled numerous details about Tillie whom she had liked very much and remembered very well.
I learned from her also that David had an older sister named Agnes. My dad even remembered a few details about Agnes' family, including her lovely daughters. I think maybe my dad had been secretly in love with one of them!
Annie recalled that Tillie had passed a few years before my father had been born, dying a slow, painful death from cervical cancer, bedridden and in pain.
My own research subsequently revealed that Tillie had re-married after Marcus' untimely and premature death from TB in 1911 at age 28.
At the beginning of 2011, I decided to focus on learning more about David's last years in the upstate New York old red schoolhouse. I obtained a copy of his death certificate and learned a location: Summit, New York.
On the web I found the Summit Historical Society and wrote them. Almost immediately I was contacted by Karen Cuccinello, a local resident passionate about "all things Summit".
She knew of an old red schoolhouse, now torn down. She offered to find records.
From these I learned that the schoolhouse had been foreclosed upon for back taxes after David's death.
A sad ending, I thought. I cried. My dad cried.
Karen suggested I write an article about David for the local Summit newspaper.
The article ran and produced many, many emails from people who remembered David. One such reply amusingly recalled how David had "modified" the interior of the old schoolhouse by building a swing for his children in the main room, hanging from the rafters!
This little anecdote prompted me to remember that David had constructed a similar indoor swing in the house he and the family had rented near us in 1974!
Several readers sent me photos of the schoolhouse.
Some recounted how David collected and restored rare Bugati automobiles. I found it amazing that this "hobby" would somehow get passed down to my dad who had a passion for collecting and restoring old Porsches!
Sadly, I also learned that David was buried in an obscure tiny cemetery not far from the schoolhouse with no headstone or marker at his grave.
This felt wrong. To me, and to my dad.
So, together we got to work to design and order a headstone for David, to be shipped from California to New York.
By autumn 2011, the headstone my dad paid for was erected at David's gravesite at the Summit cemetery.
A few days later, I was in Poland and gingerly stepping among the ivy vines and lush wet grass licking the old broken and forgotten headstones of the Przemysl Jewish cemetery.
The circle was complete.