The village of Sobibor was located in the eastern region of German-occupied Poland during World War II. Nearby, the Nazis had built the Sobibor Death Camp. It was the final stop on a railway to hell where 250,000 Jews were gassed and buried in mass graves. Among them were the first three of the following individuals:
Klaartje de Leeuw, Joachim Bloch, Meijer Stokvis and Andries Bloch (Joachim’s brother)
The fourth person, Andries, was killed at Trobitz, another Nazi camp located inside Germany. I have just now learned of these four people this week. It has been confirmed that they were ancestors of mine, albeit distant cousins, but nonetheless…family. Andries, who was killed last, lost his life in 1945, the year I was born.
While I was too young to sense any personal attachment to World War II, even in my first aware years it was not possible to escape the impact the war had on my parent’s generation. There existed a subtle atmosphere that I remember as I began school in the late 1950’s. It was difficult—and still is—to describe. I remember the times having a heightened attention to things like patriotism, a sense of country and definitely an awareness of and respect for the loss many families had suffered.
For example, Memorial Day had an entirely different feeling to it back then. There were no big retail sales or joyful family picnics. The mood was much more somber. I lived in a new post-war development that consisted of endless lines of identical row homes. I can recall seeing block after block of American flags flown or hanging from the windows of just about every house. Lots of people attended memorial services and visited cemeteries that day. These kinds of feelings cooled over the next few decades and were noticeably rekindled for a brief time when 911 occurred.
Only through books and documentary film can I even begin to grasp the impact that the Holocaust must have had on people, needless to say especially on Jews. I once visited Dachau, one of the more notorious Nazi concentration camp near Munich. It was a haunting experience. I remember the trip back to our hotel when the group I was traveling with was noticeably quiet. It seemed each of us was silently numbed by what we had seen. The systematic annihilation of six million human beings based on their religious beliefs and ethnicity has to be the most horrific tragedy ever perpetrated by mankind on mankind.
Until now, any family link to victims of the Holocaust had never been discovered. But then, there was no real source of information available. My mother’s parents had died before the war and no other known relatives existed. But ancestry.com has become a whole new resource available to family historians. I admit the genetic relationship to this newfound personal lineage seems to feel stronger than the religious connection.
The fact is, religion plays little role in my life. This is likely the result from my not growing up in a religious household. My mother was Jewish; my father was Protestant. Neither one practiced their religion. They were not members of a church or temple, nor did they celebrate any religious holidays. In fact, my father claimed he was an atheist. My mother, meanwhile, never gave up her Jewish background, but that is precisely where it was kept. My bother and I grew up as lost souls religion-wise, although lack of a specific faith to follow never seemed an issue. It did not stop my parents from making sure a full package of ethics and morality were–God help us– well embedded in both of us.
So now there are four new individuals, victims of the Holocaust, discovered as legitimate family ancestors, with maybe more to come. I can barely attempt to pronounce some of their names properly, let alone imagine the horror they went through in their final year. But just seeing their names brings them into focus…and into reality. Knowing what happened to them, along with realizing the connection, has given me pause. These people represent some of the blood lines that stream down the branches of my family tree and no matter how inconsequential the linkage may be, all four of them, one way or another, are a part of me.