The faces of the people in the pictures followed me. Who were they and why couldn't anyone tell me their names?
My grandmother died in 1956, leaving me, her eldest grandchild, filled with questions interspersed with memories. Since I was only 5 when she died, the questions that grew outweighed the memories.
In 1985, my grandfather, Harry Silberman died. It was only with his death and the discovery of boxes of papers, pictures and letters that I began my journey that led to discovering not only the names of the people in the pictures, but something of their lives and deaths.
In one of those boxes was a mysterious assortment of letters to and from Samuel Grass, in Stanislawow but now in the USSR, not in Galicia where my grandmother was born or in Poland from where she emigrated. Were there so many places with which our family was associated that all had the same name? Why were there letters to Samuel in sealed envelopes stamped "RETOUR PARTI"?
The letters from Samuel were all in Polish and dated 1946. It took a Polish friend to translate them. She told us that Samuel wrote that he, his wife, Diana, and their son, Eugene had survived the war and were desperate to connect with their family. Other letters from him indicated that he never received the letters from my grandmother, which were still in their sealed envelopes. At this point it was 1986 - was it possible that Samuel could be found?
A friend said there was an agency in Israel that could help find relatives. I wrote a letter to The Search Bureau for Missing Relatives, headed by Batya Unterschatz, in Jerusalem. Batya wrote back with an address where Samuel, Diana and Eugene had been living in 1966. That was 20 years earlier - could they STILL be alive? Would they still be living there?
The answers were yes and yes. The name of the city had changed. The family had moved. Yet, the letter was delivered to them! Eugene, Samuel and Diana's son had married and he had a daughter, Ella. All of them were alive and well in the USSR! More amazingly, Ella taught English and it was she who wrote the letters to me, which in the beginning were dictated to her by Diana, her grandmother.
Samuel and Diana had no pre-war photos, they said and were grateful for the copies of all the photos I sent them. They in turn sent me the names of the people in the photos and their relationship to my grandmother, Blima. What a gift! The people in the photos had all been killed in the war. Now, we knew their names and we could remember them.
In 2009, after many years of corresponding with Ella, I visited Stanislawow, now called Ivano-Frankivsk. She and I found records of the family in the archives there and were able to identify more family and learn a little of their lives
Samuel and Diana's descendants - son Eugene and his daughter Ella, granddaughter Julia and her son Ilya all remain in Ukraine. My grandmother, Blima and her sister Fanny left there for the United States where their descendants all live.
One day, I hope to return to Ukraine and find more details of the lives of my family.