Re: Ukraine/Slovakia Visit-Summer 1998 #hungary


To all readers and fellow genealogists, Louis Schonfeld asked that I duplicate
an article I wrote for the Fall 1998 "Generations" a journal published by the
local Michigan Jewish Genealogical Society chapter. I do not have a photo
scanner so you could see the expressions captured by the camera when my
American father (age 89) and his English first-cousin (age 84) met for the
first time. Neither knew of each other's existence before my research
Diane M. Freilich of Michigan


This summer, I visited the hometowns of my paternal ancestors that were
once part of the huge Austria-Hungary Empire. Today, these places are located
in Slovakia and the Ukraine.

The first two weeks were spent researching genealogy. Louis Schonfeld of
Cleveland, Ohio arranged for our guides, driver and itinerary. We were a group
of six on tour to the Ukraine and two in Slovakia. Louis is an incredible
human being. He is so dedicated to discovering the roots of Hungarian Jewry
that you cannot help but be enthusiastic as well. Our goal was to locate
Jewish cemeteries and the graves of our ancestors.

Highlighting the trip was the successful location of the grave site for
my paternal ggf, Moshe Zvi Freilich. He is buried in the Uzhgorod cemetery in
Ukraine. However, much to our amazement the tombstone bore a memorial
inscription for his sons murdered at Auschwitz, instead of his death seventeen
years before. The stone had toppled over and was embedded in the ground. We
could not lift it. However, we think the inscription of his death must be on
the other side. Finding his grave would have been next to impossible in this
vast cemetery. It was my good fortune to have the page >from the Uzhgorod
pinkas (death registry) which gave his name, section plot number and date of
death. Information regarding this pinkas is in Avotaynu, Winter 1998 edition.
The story behind the pinkas is fascinating and I urge you to read it.
Visiting the Ukraine was like turning the clock back one hundred years ago.
The traffic jams are caused by cows herded through the roads to and from

I saw the villages of Gaboltov and Hrabske and the town of Bardejov all
located in Saros County, Slovakia. There are no Jews remaining in the two
villages and only a few in Bardejov. The Gaboltov cemetery is just a jungle.
An elderly Slovakian citizen who led us to the cemetery, returned with an ax
to chop away the overgrown tree branches and brush. Only twenty tombstones
were identified. Most were inscribed with first names not surnames. What a
disappointment not to find any of my ancestors. Several people in the group
were able to locate unknown ancestors at other cemetery locations.
Nevertheless, actually visiting the places where my gf and ggf once resided in
the mid to late 1800s was worth it. The countryside is breathtaking with its
hills and greenery.

Although I knew the cemetery and date of death, I was not able to locate
my paternal gggm in the Bardejov cemetery. This is a huge cemetery and is
poorly maintained with weeds and grass above waist high and bees everywhere.
There is no burial registry according to Meyer Spira, a Jewish man who holds
the cemetery key. Even though he visits the cemetery daily, Mr. Spira offered
no assistance as to where she might be buried. This part of the trip was

It is very difficult to obtain vital records >from the Ukraine. The
communist mentality is still prevalent. In contrast, the Slovakians are more
liberal. At the Presov archives, I actually had the opportunity to touch the
original birth, death and marriage registries. Even though, I had seen the
information on LDS microfilm, this was quite a thrilling experience. Twelve
registers were produced for my review. However, I only had time to peruse
five. In addition, copies of the 1868 census were provided. There were only
three families >from Gaboltov, one of which was the Freilich family. Copies
were made. There is an archival fee based upon the number of books requested.
This fee is quite nominal given the value of the American dollar.

The next two weeks I planned a commercial tour of the Eastern European
cities: Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Prague and Vienna. Auschwitz and Birkenau
were visited. The commercial atmosphere of Auschwitz was a disappointment.
However, the exhibits of shoes, glasses, suitcases, human hair were
overwhelming. In contrast, the silence was deafening at Birkenau. It is my
understanding that both camps were reconstructed. Just the original brick
chimneys remain as a reminder of this horrific time in human history.

In Prague, the Pinkas Synagogue has many walls of names (77,297)
memorializing those Jews that were deported >from Bohemia and Moravia. After
each name is the year of birth and year of deportation. The group was alerted
to locate the Freilich name since I knew it was listed in The Precious Legacy
by David Altshuler. These walls of names are just mind boggling. You can
spend hours trying to read them. There is a big sign stating no cameras nor
videos allowed. A few people on tour spotted Freilich, saving a considerable
amount of time. I now have eighteen more Freilichs to research. I understand
no publication exists of these names.

I had the wonderful opportunity, in Vienna, to spend thirty minutes with
Simon Wiesenthal at his office. The man is as impressive in person as his
Nazi-hunting skills are world renowned. Mr. Wiesenthal will be 90 on December
31, 1998. He should live for another 90 years in continued good health. When
I questioned the absence of a Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, his answer
"Everything in due time." Fifty-four years after W.W.II, a Holocaust monument
has broken ground.

The climax of the trip was a visit to London, England. In London, there
is a huge Freilich family who are related. We share the same gggf and ggf.
One year ago, this summer I became interested in genealogy. Within eight
months, I had discovered this English family via the Internet. A kind
gentleman read my note of inquiry and e-mailed a list of thirteen Freilichs in
the London directory. I then en masse snail mailed an inquiry resulting in
five hits.

Yeshiah Nosan Freilich was a brother to my grandfather and uncle to my
father. He was regarded as a learned rabbi having published in 1940 a book on
dietary laws called: Shaare Dura on Yore Deah. After completing a second
volume of this treatise, he was murdered in 1944 at Auschwitz. I received an
unbound copy of the first volume >from my English relatives, who are his
descendants. The US Library of Congress maintains a copy as well.

My father, Norman Freilich (89 years) and my mother Nettie met me in
London to meet this new found family. On this inaugural visit, Norman met his
first cousin, Meier Freilich (84), son of Yeshiah. Neither cousin knew of the
existence of each other. There was a beautiful reception honoring us with
thirty family members present. We learned that my dad has a first cousin Elly
(91) living in Israel and many more relatives. I am urging my father to
embark on an Israeli trip next year, the good Lord willing.

Conclusion. I have three strong impressions to share. First and
foremost, is the realization that the European Jewish civilization and culture
has been eradicated. Town after town that once inhabited Jews are now devoid
of them. What does this mean? The Jewish cemeteries are difficult to find
and have been neglected for fifty years or more. The young people of the
country have no clue regarding the Jews. Searching for older people becomes a
necessity. The older the person the more likely their knowledge of the Jews.
The problem, in a few years they, too will be gone.
Secondly, I feel that American Jewry may also lose its identity. We do
not need a Hitler to annihilate us, it is happening before our eyes. Think for
a moment how often do we attend services. How often do we support the
synagogue, the Jewish community. It is so easy to take things for granted.
How devastating it was to view vacant, rotting synagogues hauntingly standing
as a reminder of the past. How scary it was to see shuls now used as concert
halls and businesses. The Jews are gone.

Finally, when I decided to undertake the creation of a family tree,
little did I realize the time involvement and the impact this endeavor would
have upon my life. Although this "hobby" has become an obsession, I must tell
you how rewarding it is to find family. How mind boggling it is to be
ignorant of relatives existing across the ocean and around the block. How I
buried my head in the sand thinking my family was so fortunate to be in
America during the Nazi era of murder. How naive of me to think with six
million Jews murdered that my family had been spared. To me, this is the
ultimate reason for Jewish genealogy. To uncover the murdered victims and give
them a final resting place; with their names on our family trees.
Diane M. Freilich
Member of Michigan Jewish Genealogical Society

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