Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mystery Solved!

As I started hearing from relatives whom I had never known about, a mystery arose. I was eager to find the descendants of Mordechai and Avrohom, who featured prominently in my grandfather's life, and in the book. I was excited when I spoke to the first 'new' cousin, Dr. Sam Marateck, a professor of computer science and winner of multiple best teacher awards at NYU.  his grandfather had been Chayim, the Talmudic scholar whom Jacob followed to the yeshiva (and from which he ran away in under a week). The next time we saw Chayim was after Jacob returned from the war and visited him in Lodz. Chayim became a shochet (a kosher butcher) in Shenandoah, PA once he moved to the U.S.

I confess to being a little disappointed, though, when I learned Sam's grandfather had been Chayim because I was eager to share the book, and their grandfather's roles in it, with Avrohom and Mordechai's descendants.

Then I heard from another relative I hadn't know about either. Now, at last, I had surely found one of Avrohom or Mordechai's descendants. But I became confused when I talked to David Marateck, a lawyer in Coal, PA (which I assume is in the general vicinity of Shenandoah) and his father, Sanford, a retired lawyer. Sanford's grandfather had been Berel Marateck. Berel? I had never heard of Berel, although he was mentioned in the earlier book, The Samurai of Vishigrod. And neither David, nor Sanford, nor Sam, before them, had ever heard of Mordechai, or my grandfather's sister, Malkah. All that anyone was certain about was that there had been 4 Marateck boys. I was now more confused.

While still trying to figure this out, David was kind enough to send me two family photos, which are pasted below. The first is of Berel and Avrohom -- yes, that Avrohom, on the left -- standing in front of  "B. Marateck Haberdashery" in Shenandoah, PA (which you can faintly see on the window of the store). What I realized, from seeing this picture, is that Berel must have been the oldest in the family, and had already left home and established his own life by the time about which my grandfather wrote. Jacob must not have grown up with him. (In fact, checking death records, I learned that Berel, or 'Barney,' as he was known in the U.S., had been born in 1866 whereas Jacob had been born in 1883. I deeply apologize to David and Sanford, et al., for not having known about Berel, but I will update the book to include him.)

This photo is Berel, his wife Dora, and their children, George and Abraham, in a family portrait.

But why had no one ever heard of Mordechai? I asked my mother, and my Aunt, Rose, if they knew of an uncle named Berel, or anything about Mordechai or Avrohom. My mother then told me stories about Avrohom visiting her family in th Bronx, and how her father and uncle would laugh together. In particular, she remembered giving up her room whenever Avrohom and his wife came to visit, which she didn't resent even a bit because it was so much fun to have him around. But once again, neither my mother nor my aunt remembered Berel and couldn't remember ever hearing the name Mordechai. I couldn't imagine that my grandfather would not have remained close to Mordechai, who had saved his life so many times in the book. But this is what I think I have figured out, though it may take looking through more graveyard records to come to a definitive conclusion.

There must have been 5 Marateck boys, born in this order: Berel, Mordechai, Chayim, Jacob and Avrohom. I don't know where in the birth order Malkah had been born, though I know she was older than Jacob. Berel moved to the U.S., first, where he set up a successful haberdashery (at least it was successful until the Depression). Some time later, Chayim followed Berel to the U.S., and Jacob and Avrohom did, too, though I don't know at what time. We can only conclude that neither Mordechai.nor Malkah left Poland,and must not have survived the Holocaust. Alas, the database of Polish Jewry is no longer online, and I don't know if there is any way to access it short of going to Poland. But you can bet I'm going to keep looking for information about each of these family members. Now I'm just waiting for one of Avrohom's grandchildren to get in touch with me... In the meantime, I am enjoying discovering family members that I never knew about.

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