Polatschek Family Reunion
June 15, 2015
They mourn differently.
I read somewhere that when parents lose a child, the mother and father mourn differently. In general, Women “speak.” Men “work.”
So it was in my own family.
On June 5, 1972, at the age of twenty-eight, my sister Paula Carol Wiesenfeld passed away unexpectedly. From that day forward my mother Ruth Polatschek spoke lovingly and admiringly and proudly of her only daughter.
From that day forward my father Otto Polatschek closeted himself and immersed himself in his lifelong devotion to stamp collecting. He also began a new Project. I can only guess his motivation; he decided to construct a Polatschek Family Tree.
In those pre-digital days of expensive long-distance telephone calls and handwritten international letters, Otto first contacted his older sister Ida Kiewe in London. Ida had kept in touch with a few of their cousins, and knew the approximate locations of others. Otto sent letters around the world and when he received responses, he was able to begin.
As he was wont to do, meticulous and thorough, with only a pencil and paper and a ruler, Otto drew the Polatschek Family Tree. At the top of the tree are Josef and Rosalie Poláček, Otto’s late Czech-Jewish Grandparents, followed by their many children and grandchildren.
A few members of the extended family had left Germany or Czechoslovakia before World War Two began. Others barely escaped. Many others “disappeared.” “Disappeared” of course is a euphemism. Thirty members of the Polatschek Family, from age 12 to 80, were murdered.
(Poláček is the original Czech spelling. Polatschek is the German equivalent.)
When the Polatschek Family Tree was complete, Otto mailed copies of the chart to his relatives. And from time to time, as difficult as it was for him, he and I discussed the fate of the “disappeared” and the locations of our living cousins.
Many years later, after my Aunt Ida and my parents passed away, I began a Project of my own. I decided to update the forty-year-old Polatschek Family Tree.
Now in our digital era, using Skype and the Internet, and with my elementary Spanish and my bits of German, I managed to contact many of my cousins. (It took me several minutes on the telephone to convince two of them that I really was their cousin. They were totally unaware that they had any Polatschek relatives! The original Family Tree was sent to their parents who simply filed it away.)
My newly-found cousins supplied me with the names and dates of current members of their respective families. There are now more than one hundred and thirty descendants of Josef and Rosalie. I entered all the information on a family tree computer program and emailed it to everyone.
Then I decided on a Second Project:
I would visit as many of my cousins as possible. (Of course, I frequently see my nephew, my late sister’s son Jason and his wife Carrie and their three children, Chloe, Maxwell and Myles. They live in Miami.)
I traveled to Portland, Oregon to visit cousin Jim and his wife Betty and their four children and grandchildren. I traveled to Toronto, Canada to visit my cousin Pamela and her sister Barbara.
I traveled to London, England once again to visit my first cousin Dorothy† and her husband Roger and their daughter Lisa and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Joshua.
I traveled to Montevideo, Uruguay to visit cousin Diana and her sister Sylvia and their husbands Guillermo and Raύl and children.
I traveled to Zurich, Switzerland to visit my cousin Michal and his wife Maria and sons. I traveled to Binyamina, Israel to visit my cousin Miryam, her husband Moshe†† and their three children and grandchildren.
My quest is not yet complete. There are other Polatschek cousins around the globe: from New York to California to Norway to Australia to New Zealand. I hope to meet them all one day.
Then, I decided on a Third Project:
I volunteered to plan and organize a Polatschek Family Reunion! This Project was the most challenging of all.
First question: Where? That was the easy part. Since we Polatscheks are of Czech heritage, the proper location for the reunion would be Prague in the Czech Republic.
When? I consulted my Cousin Michal in Zurich. Michal was born in Czechoslovakia and knows Prague very well. We decided on June, 2015.
What? This was most daunting. As part of my European trip in 2014, I purposely went to Prague to begin planning for the event. I had a recommendation to a seemingly professional Travel Agency. The young agent there assured me that she was experienced in handling special arrangements for groups. Not! After weeks of letters and frustrating telephone calls, I decided to end the discussion with her. I found another agency. Same result. I almost gave up!
Finally I decided: Except for the dates and the hotel rooms, I would do no planning. After all, we Polatscheks are experienced travelers. More importantly, the genetic predispositions of the Polatschek Family are clearly for self-reliance and independence. We would meet in Prague and make plans day by day.
It worked! We visited the important squares, castles, bridges and monuments in Prague. We took the Jewish Heritage Tour. We went to synagogue on Friday evening for Sabbath prayers. That evening also marked my father’s Yahrzeit (anniversary of his death). I said Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for him.
The highlight of the Reunion was the “pilgrimage” to the birthplace of Josef Poláček. In Central Bohemia, Jiřice is a small town, a village really, about an hour’s drive east of Prague. We posed for photographs in front of what we think was our ancestral home. Then Cousin Michal guided us to Konopiste Castle and finally, a restaurant where we had a late lunch of delicious Czech food.
The Polatschek Family Reunion was “an Event!” We all enjoyed and were stimulated by each other’s company. We talked and talked and talked! And then, we talked some more. We promised to Do it Again! Next year. Jerusalem.
In the original announcement and my letter of invitation to all the Polatscheks, I wrote:
I am certain that this Reunion will be an exciting event. Furthermore, I believe that the strengthening of our family bonds will be a fitting tribute to our parents and grandparents.
Our reunion group in Prague was small, but enthusiastic and energetic. And we most assuredly strengthened our family bonds.
Jim and Betty came from Portland, Oregon. Diana and Guillermo came from Montevideo, Uruguay. Michal and Maria came from Zurich, Switzerland. Miryam and her son Ofer came from Binyamina, Israel. Aliza and Eiki came from Israel. Most had never met before. We were all so grateful and appreciative of each other’s company.
Finally, in the original announcement and letter of invitation, I wrote:
Our Reunion will also serve as a Memorial to those members of our family who did not have the good fortune to live out their lives.
In Europe, many members of our Polatschek Family died and disappeared without a trace or memorial. Along with millions of other Jews and non-Jews around the world, we mourn our family and friends who were lost during those terrible years. Yet despite our sad history, our traditions endure. We embrace our precious legacy.
In New Jersey one fine day, my little sister Paula died. She and her memorial stone lie in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Not a day goes by when Paula is not in my thoughts. How do I mourn her? At first, I was my father’s son – angry and speechless. As the years have passed, I am more my mother’s son – admiring and proud.
Had Paula been with us in Prague, I am certain she would have been as energetic and enthusiastic as all the Polatscheks.
Life goes on. Ideas take root and flourish. New behaviors emerge.
Our small gathering in Prague has already provided the impetus for new family bonds that connect continents. Alon, the grandson of Cousin Miryam, has recently traveled from Binyamina, Israel to Montevideo, Uruguay to visit his cousin Alejandro, the son of Cousin Diana and Cousin Guillermo. *
Next year! Jerusalem!
† Dorothy Kiewe Morris, of Blessed Memory.
†† Moshe Lauer, of Blessed Memory.
*Cousin Diana writes to us:
I feel I want to share with you the wonderful experience we had last weekend.
Miryam's grandson Alon Lauer traveled to Uruguay to visit us. We had a great time together. We showed him around and we had long chats. We felt we are REALLY family.
And while Alon was at home with us, my thoughts were for my mother and grandmother and what they would have felt knowing that a little part of Josef Poláček was here with us.
I also thought of all of you, and the lovely time we spent together in Prague. All this was possible thanks to Jan's father and his Polatschek Family Tree. Also thanks to Jan who managed to find us all around the world. I still get goose bumps when I remember our family reunion.
It is so nice that Alon is the same age as my son, Alejandro. They went out together, and as young people, they have the same interests. They went to a birthday party where most of the boys spoke Hebrew. Alon fit in perfectly. Although he comes from so far away, because he is Jewish he belongs to a big family.
I hope I will have the privilege to repeat this wonderful experience with any of you, your children, or grandchildren. You are ALL very welcome in Uruguay.
We send you a big hug,
Guillermo, Diana and Alejandro
“Respice. Adspice. Prospice.”
This Latin phrase is the motto of my university, The City College of New York. It means:
“Learn from the Past. Examine the Present. Look to the Future.”
Can there be a more fitting directive?
For every family?
For all of us?
A special “Thank You” goes to Mark Tritsch, an Englishman who lives in Ulm, Germany. Mark is also devoted to a Project. Mark researches “disappeared” Jews of Ulm. He finds their previous place of business or residence there. At that location and with the cooperation of the city officials, he installs a “Stolpersteine,” or stumbling block, an engraved cobblestone that serves as a memorial.
During our family reunion in Prague, our group had a Skype video conference with Mark. He informed us of the history of another Otto Polatschek. Otto was the son of Alois Polatschek and grandson of Josef Poláček.
Otto was married to Liesl and had a retail shoe business in Ulm. During the War they were forced flee to Berlin. Liesl was captured and transported to Lithuania where she “disappeared.” Otto was hidden but unfortunately died in a bombing raid.
Otto Polatschek is the granduncle of Diana in Montevideo!
The installation of the Stolpersteine for Otto Polatschek is scheduled for October 2016. I will join Mark in Ulm for that special occasion.
Another very big “Thank you” goes to Yoav Lahad in Israel. Yoav is a Tausig. He is my distant cousin related to me through my Grandmother Rosa Tausig Poláček.
Yoav has traced his Tausig family for several generations. His research and curiosity has also expanded to the Poláček family. He has found information about the parents and grandparents of Josef Poláček! My (our) great-great- great grandparents!
I look forward to my continued conversations with Yoav. I have promised him that sometime very soon I will update and continue to maintain the Polatschek Family Tree.