My name is Zuzanna Dybaś. I am 18 years old and I am a student of High School No. 1 and of the second-level Music School in Rzeszów. I am passionate about photography, literature and music. I love meeting new people from different corners of the world because it gives me a broader view on the world and its various problems. I decided to take part in the project because I wanted to have a better understanding of the history of Jews living in Rzeszów.
My name is Gabriela Nycek. I am 16 years old. I am student of Bilingual University High School in Rzeszów. I love reading books, watching films, listening to music, learning new languages and meeting with friends. My hobbies are travelling, learning foreign languages and discovering new cultures. I decided to take part in the project because I am really interested in history of The Second World War, especially in Poland.
Representative of Albert Family – Helen Albert
Helen Albert was our partner in the project. Her family and she live in the USA. In the past, Helen was a Chief Investigator of two committees in the U.S. Senate and the Inspector General of a federal department. Currently, she works for American government. Helen is a tall, slim woman with medium-length hair and blue eyes. She wears glasses. Our interviewee is 60 years old but looks much younger. During our conversations on internet platforms, she very often talked about her daughters: Hannah and Sarah. Both of them are not much older from us: Sarah is 21 years old and she studies at the University of Michigan, while Hannah is 23 years old and has just ended her first year of law studies at American University Washington College of Law. During the meetings, Helen was mostly focusing on the history of her father who was born in Rzeszów. She also really wanted to get to know us so she always asked about our families, about our well-being, what we do in our free time and what is the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in Poland. At the end of our online meetings, Helen often called for one of her daughters. Sarah and Hannah usually came and greeted us. Helen has never been in Rzeszów but her daughter Hannah has visited the city in 2014.
What does Helen Albert know about her family from Rzeszów?
Basic information received from Helen Albert were that father lived in Rzeszów – Szyja Oskar Albert, born on August 30 in 1924, as well as his sisters Chaja and Malka, and parents: Sara (nee Jeżower) born on May 2 in 1891 in Głogów, and Salomon Albert, born on the January 1st in 1890 in Rzeszów. Apart from them, Sara’s parents and Salomon’s parents lived here too.
We received dozen scans of photos and documents from Helen, both about Albert family and Jeżower family. Photos were taken in Edward Janusz’s studio who was a popular photographer in Rzeszów in those days. That fact can be the proof that Albert family was wealthy. Besides, Helen Albert provided us with a lot of valuable more detailed information about her family.
As for the Albert family, great-grandfather Albert was a duvet manufacturer. His son Salomon (Helen’s grandfather) was helping him in the business. Hence, we can presume that part of the inhabitants of Rzeszów slept under duvets made by Abraham! In 1902, Helen’s great-grandparents were neighbours of relatives of Fred Zinnemann – famous film director (Fred Zinnemann’s uncle – David Zinnemann, his wife and kids). Both families lived on Sandomierska Street 24 (it is today’s Grunwaldzka Street and according to our findings, the families lived in the tenement house with the same number).
Helen mentioned that three sisters of her grandfather: Henne, Ruchela and Zyvia had emigrated to United States in 1912 and 1913 before the Second World War started.
Helen told us about her father and his life before the Second World War. She did not know much about it but she mentioned that he went to Secondary School No. I in Rzeszów (as it turned out later, it was not precise information).
Time of the Second World War was an important subject in our conversations. Helen’s father told her that in 1940 he had to remove snow from streets of Rzeszów and that in 1940 he had tried to run away and cross the Soviet border – he had not managed to escape; he had been caught and sent to prison for two months. Helen mentioned that her father worked in an aviation factory in Rzeszów (todays Pratt & Whitney). He survived a lot of concentration camps, among others the Huta Komorowska camp (one of the harshest camps), Płaszów concentration camp, and concentration camp in Mielec (also one of the harshest camps). In one document shown to us by Helen her father described that one of the SS men hit him in head with such a strength that Helen’s father lost front teeth… That incident took place in the concentration camp in Mielec. That story shows how brutal some of the SS men were. It was in the camp in Mielec where Oskar Albert had an inscription “KL” tattooed on his body, that in German language is an abbreviation of “Konzentrationslager” meaning “concentration camp”. When in 1944 it turned out that Germany was close to being defeated, the German soldiers began to transport prisoners from concentration camps located in Poland to Germany. For that reason, Oskar Albert was transported from the camp in Mielec to a camp in Wieliczka, and then to the concentration camp in Flossenburg in Germany. After the war, Helen’s father stayed in Germany for a few years and later emigrated to the States. It was then when his name Oskar began to be spelled Oscar.
Unfortunately, not all of Helen’s family members survived the Holocaust. Oskar’s case was exceptional. He experienced a lot of evil but he survived. Unfortunately, most of his family died. Pessel – Oskar’s grandmother and Helen’s great-grandmother – died in the ghetto in Rzeszów. Sara – Oskar’s mum and Helen’s grandmother, and her two daughters were taken away to the camp in Bełżec in 1942, where they were murdered. Moreover, Helen has information that Ascher Albert (Oskar’s uncle, brother of his father Salomon) was killed in the ghetto in Rzeszów in 1942 (this uncle had fought in the First World War and came back from it a person with disability).
Helen also showed us documents of the Jeżower family proving that they survived the war in the Soviet Union and after the war they returned to Rzeszów to Szpitalna Street 1. They did not stay long in the city. In the summer of 1946, they left to Austria to a displaced persons camp in Salzburg. Helen’s great uncle Herman Jeżower (born in 1907, later a little bit rejuvenated in documents) settled down in New York in Manhattan and died there in 1989. Another Helen’s great uncle Bernard Jeżower experienced a mental breakdown after returning to Rzeszów and finding out that his wife and two children had been killed in Bełżec. He never left Austria. The people closest to him placed him in a sanatorium under the care of the Austrian nurse and her family. Bernard was buried in Linz, Austria. It is a very sad story… Bernard and Herman’s sister Basia (Berta) Jeżower emigrated to Austria and then to Israel (with her husband Nachum Sturmlaufer). Helen maintains close relationship with Berta and Nachuma’s grandchildren as they are of similar age.
Our search was mainly based on searching for information on the Internet. We had a few books and articles to read. One of us managed to visit the State Archives in Rzeszów. For the purposes of our project, Mr Rafał Kocoł from Rzeszów District Museum checked the list of clients of Edward Janusz’s photo studio. There the names from Helen Albert’s family were found, too. Hence, members of Albert family took their photos at Edward Janusz’s. However, matching descriptions of clients of the studio with photos got from Helen is challenging.
In the State Archives in Rzeszów, we were mostly interested in reports on Secondary School No. 1 (actually Gimnazjum (Middle School) – in the 1930s it was the name of the school). During one of the conversations, Helen provided us with an information that her father had gone to gimnazjum in Rzeszów before the war. We wanted to find out what his marks were and whether he did a secondary school diploma. We checked reports from the time when Szyja Oskar Albert could have been a student of Gimnazjum No. 1 but his surname did not appear in any of the reports. We did not find him in reports on Gimnazjum No. 2, too. It was a big surprise for us! We started to ask Helen about it. It turned out that Helen’s father gave an information about his attending the school in Rzeszów in one of the post-war documents; however, he did not indicate to which one exactly. In this case, we failed in our search.
On the other hand, we found interesting information in registration cards. For example: Salomon Albert, Szyja Oskar’s father and Helen’s grandfather, was a musician! Such an information can be found in population movement control reports. From these, we can find out that Malka’s name (Szyja Oskar’s sister) was written down as Amelia Gisela and Szyja Oskar name was officially Abraham Moses! Helen Albert explained it to us: “This happened a number of times in other documents I have and I think that is because Moses in Hebrew is Moshe and it sounds like Shia so whoever was writing it down got it wrong because maybe they were not familiar with Jewish names”.
We were looking for information about the Jeżower family which member was Sara – Salomon’s wife so Helen Albert’s grandmother. We managed to find a message that Fryderyka Jeżower was the first female dentist in Rzeszów – we learned it from Helen and a book Szemartyzm Królestwa Galicyi I Lodomeryi z Wielkim Księstwem Krakowskim za rok 1941 – Szemartism of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria with the Grand Duchy of Kraków for 1941. Besides, it turned out that Fryderyka Jeżower is listed in the list of doctors in Rzeszów (of Jewish origin) from 1931. We found the information on the site of POLIN Museum (Museum of History of Polish Jews).
Unfortunately, as we learned, Fryderyka and her sister committed suicide by taking poison – the information is in one of the chapters from Rzeszów Memorial Book. Moreover, Helen herself confirmed that the description found in the book refers to Fryderyka. Story of the first female dentist in Rzeszów is thrilling and shows that even educated people at that time felt compelled to take their own lives.
We also found out from Wikipedia that Ignaz Sebastian Jeżower (born in Rzeszów in 1878) was a Polish-German cultural historian, writer and translator, having lived for many years in Berlin. Moreover, we found out that there was “Jeżower and sons” firm in Reszów which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1885. Salomon Jeżower, a member of City Council, was the owner of the firm. That information is found in a book titled Życia towarzyskie i kulturowe Rzeszowa w dobie autonomii Galicji – Social and Cultural Life of Rzeszów in the Era of Galicia’s Autonomy written by Jadwiga Szymczak-Hoff (in both cases we do not know the kinship but it is probable that these persons were related to Helen’s family).
Furthermore, in the State Archives in Rzeszów, we looked closely at the voter lists from the 1930s and found a lot of people with Jeżower and Sturmlaufer surnames. Sturmlaufer surname was very important for us as Basia Jeżower married Nachum Sturmlaufer. This may indicate that both families were socially active. Those documents also contain information about the places of residence of individual people.
The State Archives in Rzeszów contains also letters and postcards sent by Jewish families and friends exiled deep into the Soviet Union, and received by Jews from Rzeszów right after the Second World War. Among them are letters written by Helen Albert’s great uncle – Herman Jeżower, when he was in camp in Kazakhstan. Letters are moving as they were written to ghosts… The receivers are Herman’s relatives, all long deceased. But Herman did not know it. The man was not receiving return messages for long time so every next letter is really the another begging for an answer. It can be seen through letters that Herman was truly close with his parents and loved them deeply. Reading his letters is affecting. We discussed them with Helen and it was really moving.
We were not only reading books and documents. We also walked around the city and looked for specific addresses. We found almost all the places, where Helen’s family lived:
– Szpitalna Street 5 – where Ascher and Hala Albert’s lived – so great-uncle and aunt from Oscar Albert’s father side with their children. This tenement house still exists and ordinary flats are located there.
– 3rd May Street 11 – here Fryderyka Jeżower lived – the first female doctor in Rzeszów. Now, “Żabka” grocery store is located here.
– Szpitalna Street 1 where Bernard and Amalia Jezower lived – so great-uncle and aunt from Oskar Albert’s mother side. Now, Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego is located here.
– Grunwaldzka Street 24 where in 1902 Helen’s great-grandparents were neighbours with Dawid Zinnemann’s family.
We could not find Król Kazimierz Street 14 where Salomon and Sala Albert lived. We think the building does not exist anymore or that the numeration was changed.
There is one more interesting fact. During the project, it turned out that Helen Albert is related to another person taking part in our project– Arik Diamant. Explanation of this kinship is complicated. Long story short, it is because of marriage between Goldreich family (Arik’s family) and Neiss family (Helen’s family, Neiss was a Helen’s great-grandmother maiden name – Rachel Jeżower). It was an uncanny experience for us – Arik Diamant living in Israel Arik and Helen Albert living in USA found out about their family affinities thanks to our project!
Taking part in the project was not just a pleasure for me but it was also about gaining more knowledge about the city I live in and have been born in. I also noticed that the tenement houses and buildings, which previously I had passed indifferently, have gained a different meaning to me. I started to discover Rzeszów anew. I am proud when I walk along the streets of the Market Square knowing what once was there and happily tell my family and my friends about it. The query in Archive was a huge surprise for me, I have never really thought working in archive can be that hard but truly satisfying. Above all, the project taught us patience and dealing with failure (we did not always find what we were looking for). Regarding books, documents and articles, reading them was not the easiest because of the stories found in them, however, they were really interesting (they were also broadening my knowledge about Rzeszów). The general feeling about participating in the project and working with our partner is very positive. If I had an opportunity to take part in such a project for the second time, I would definitely use such an opportunity.
Participation in the project was a new experience for me that has let me broaden my knowledge on history of Jews living in Rzeszów. Months spent on searching for information, photos, and records were sometimes hard, but I was doing my work with pleasure just so Helen could get to know more about her ancestors. Despite the fact that we could not find everything, I think we did a lot of work and found new interesting information about which Helen had not known before. I know in which tenement houses her family lived. It makes me unable to pass by them indifferently. Rzeszów has become for me the city that hides a lot of interesting stories. The whole collaboration of the three of us was very successful and positive. I think each of us is satisfied with the work put into this project.
When my father passed away in 2012 at the age of 87, he took much of his past with him. I knew that he had been born in Rzeszow and, as I got older, I was able to ascertain from him his family names and a little bit about who they were and what happened to them. What I knew well was the life he built after he immigrated to the USA in 1949 at the age of 25. I knew that he was an amazing father who cherished his family more than anything else. I knew he rose, despite the war interrupting his education and the adversities he faced, to being an executive manager of a large corporation in NYC, who raised successful children – one who rose to being the leader of a federal agency in Washington, another who was a recognized Professor at Columbia University and another who went on to educate children with special needs. I, of course, knew about his life with my mother, also an amazing woman who was born in Serock, Poland and survived the war as an orphan who escaped through the sewers under the Warsaw Ghetto and who was sheltered for two years by a Polish farming family who was honored as Righteous Among the Nations years later by the State of Israel. But I also knew not to question him too much on what had happened or ask for particulars.
Although I had been to Poland with my mother in 2014 after my father passed away, we stayed in Serock while my daughter and brother went to Rzeszow to say a prayer for my great-grandmother at the Rzeszow Jewish cemetery (who my father buried in 1941 after she died in Rzeszow Ghetto) and for my grandmother and two aunts who perished in the Belzec extermination camp some kilometers away. To me Rzeszow still remained a mystery – a place with this deep family connection but also a place that seemed remote, distant and separate. I only personally knew the members of my family (a great-uncle and cousins) who had survived the war and some friends my father still had who had come from Rzeszow and lived in NYC. That all changed when I met Grazyna Bochenek.
Today, after participating with, and getting to know, Gabriela and Zuzanna all these months, and after developing a wonderful connection previously with Grazyna, I finally feel I have the link to my family hometown. In life, it’s not really visiting the once-known places that develops that connection but getting to know the people that truly creates the ties that bind. While it has been great to discover the information that they were able to uncover, it has been more important for me to feel I know people who live in that city and who are part of the everyday life there – walking the streets where my family lived and seeing the sites that they saw at one time too. That is the real consequence of participating in this effort and the lasting legacy for me with those that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know who took it upon themselves to be part of an effort to share with others the vibrant community that once existed not too long ago in such a large part of the city.
Albert Family, 1927. Oskar Albert – Helen Albert’s father – it is this small boy in the middle (he was 3 years old then). To the left of him is Helen’s great-grandmother, Oskar’s grandmother – Pessel. Next to her stays Oskar’s sister – Chaya. To the right of Oskar sits his father (Helen’s grandfather) – Solomon. Behind him, stays his wife (Oskar’s mother and Helen’s grandmother) – Sara. Next to Solomon is Oskar’s sister – Malka. Photo courtesy of Helen Albert.
Pessel (Helen Albert’s great-grandmother and Salomon Albert’s mother) and her children. The photo was taken in 1912. From the left sitting: Solomon – Helen’s grandfather; Pessel and Anna (Henne). From the left standing: Ruchel (Rosie), Usher (Ascher) and Zyvia (Sylvia) – Solomon Albert’s siblings.
Helen Albert’s grandmother and grandfather, Oskar Albert’s parents: Solomon and Sara Albert with their daughter Chaya. The photo was taken in an atelier in Rzeszów, probably in 1916. Photo from Helen Albert’s collection.
Young Oskar Albert – Helen Albert’s father (in this photo he is around 21 years old). The photo was taken in Schwandorf city just after the end of the Second World War. Photo from Helen Albert’s collection.
Oskar Albert (Helen Albert’s father) during his Bar Mitzvah. The photo was taken in 1936 or 1937 in front of Nowa Synagoga (New Synagogue) in Rzeszów. Photo courtesy of Helen Albert.
Szyja Albert – Helen Albert’s great-grandfather. Photo courtesy of Helen Albert.