My name is Mateusz Bieniasz. I am 18 years old and I am a student of Bilingual University High School in Rzeszów. I am interested in all kinds of social issues – especially in economy. I was encouraged by my history teacher to take part in the project. I found the whole initiative an interesting opportunity to meet people from other high schools schools in our city, as well as a possibility to work with people I might already know – It was an opportunity to get to know them better.
Representative of Weinstein Family – Elicia Weinstein
Elicia Weinstein was my partner in the project. It was easier for me to use the Polish version of her name, which is why I often talked and thought about her as Alicja. Elicia/Alicja Weinstein lives with her family in New York. She is 59 years old. Elicia has three children and works as an attorney. Alicja’s great-grandparents lived in Rzeszów and in the city’s neighbourhood. The generation of her father’s parents was born here. Some people emigrated to the then-Palestine (today’s Israel) and to the United States. The rest were the victims of the Holocaust many years later. It is worth pointing out that Elicia/Alicja is a granddaughter of Berish Weinstein – a journalist and writer, the author of Raishe poem entirely devoted to the city of Rzeszów from the beginning of 20th century.
The memory of the family’s past achievements seems to be especially cherished by Berish Weinstein’s son (aka Alicja’s father) – Abe Weinsten. I have met him during one of our online meetings. Abe is almost 87 years old (he was born in 1932) and remembers many anecdotal family events, which happened in the United States. He seemed to be pleased and cheerful, when he could tell me about his grandparents, parents and about his siblings. As an aviation veteran of the Korean War and someone drafted into the army at a young age, he spoke in a special way about any military operations, highlighting these difficult issues in an endearing way for listener. Abe Weinstein (even though born in the USA) remembers Polish words and phrases to this day: “Nie bierz!” – “Do not take!”; “Jak się masz?” – “How are you?”; and also names “Tadeusz” and “Hania”.
What does Elicia Weinstein know about her family from Rzeszów?
Elicia/Alicja claims that she was very lucky as she was able to stay in touch with her family from Israel from an early age. Her distant cousin is Yacov Blasbalg (he also was a participant of our project) who comes from the third generation back to her parental grandfather; both families maintained a constant contact in the post-war reality and successfully cherish these mutual ties today. The family affinities and sense of belonging to a specific family or community play a key role in the lives of people from those circles. It is not surprising, then, that there is a strong, fundamentally culturally grounded need to find one’s relatives. It manifests itself primarily in a rich and colourful family life.
Elicia/Alicja said that her grandfather Berish was a poet born in Rzeszów at the beginning of 20th century. He dedicated to the city an entire epic poem Reisha, in which he described his impressions from his early childhood, hence, before starting his studies in the Czech Reichenberuh during the First World War, going to Vienna in 1923 and emigration to the United States in 1925. The poem was written in Yiddish. Abe Weinstein added that his father Berish was a member of Pen Club in New York and was extremely busy editing newspapers texts and poems at home. I must admit that until the time of talking with Elicia I was completely unaware that such a person came from Rzeszów and that my city was described in such an extensive poem. It is worth highlighting that not knowing Yiddish language is a significant obstacle for the families of the post-war Jewish emigrants who want to find important information about their ancestors. For this reason, Elicia was not able to describe in details what her grandfather’s poem contains.
Berish Weinstein married his cousin Malka, which to some extent makes the search difficult because family trees overlap two generations back. Elicia/Alicja knows that her grandmother Malka had eleven siblings, but she only knows six names. Siblings whose names remain unknown probably died in the Holocaust. Malka and Berish emigrated to the USA in the 1920s. Max was born on January 18, 1904 and as an younger son he remained with his mother. Elicia/Alicja also told me that her great-grandmother’s (Malka’s mother) name was Rachela and that she came from Jarosław. Malka’s father and Rachela’s husband was Mojżesz Tadeusz Weinstein (he was nicknamed HaCohen, which indicates priestly roots, however, nothing more is known about the couple).
In 1967, Jewish residents of the Rzeszów city, scattered around the post-war world, published the Rzeszów Jews Memorial Book (Yizkor Book) with family photos and detailed information on the origins of the prominent members of the local Jewish community of Israeli origin. In the book there is information about the poet Berish Weinstein and articles which supplemented the information provided by Alicja. Family heirlooms also includes a few photos and documents of The World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem, which Elicia/Alicja shared with me. Besides, the aforementioned distant cousin Yacov Blasbalg was of great help in the genealogical research.
On the Polish side, the key role is played by the liaison person who can start archival searches based on basic information from Israeli sources. This makes the process of finding the relatives much easier than if the Weinstein family analyzed information on their own and sent inquiries to Polish archives in a foreign language. It is worth noting that in the case of finding matching records, mentions, or sets of files, there are usually other uncertainties related to the simple lack of regional context, as well as the lack of knowledge of the Polish language.
Certainly, the most interesting were all these figures of people from the past; the evidence of their existence remains on the slightly yellowed pages of censuses, books, lists and letters, photos and collections kept in the State archives. Each of them is a separate story, that requires attention. They were home clerks and servants, traders, tinsmiths, lawyers, ordinary workers, owners of meat purchase. I was surprised that under the same surname – Weinstein – dozen of families were listed in the registration books from Rzeszów and in the population traffic control cards from the beginning of the 20th century. Some of them come from far away (for example Lviv), others from close areas (Medynia near Łańcut), while the Weinstein family itself also mentioned Głogów. Indeed, according to various documents that I found in the State Archives in Rzeszów, at least four people named Weinstein had lived in Głogów, before they came to Rzeszów. Unfortunately, the lack of convergence of generations (most of the found people were born in 1910 and 1912) leads to the conclusion that most of them, if not all of them, do not have a relationship with the family of Elicia/Alicja Weinstein.
In addition, in the tax lists of the city of Rzeszów from 1941, there are seven people with the Weinstein surname: Helena, Hersh Leib, Izaak, Mojżesz, Pinkas, Rachela and Salomea. The lack of parents’ names and other important details does not allow drawing any genealogical conclusions – for this reason I feel unsatisfied with my research. Interestingly, in the documents of the State Archives in Rzeszów, there are some slight differences in the notation, perhaps only phonetic: Wajnsztajn, Weinsztajn, Weinsztein, Weinstein – all of these forms appeared during my research at least once, and in the case of different people.
In the State Archives in Rzeszów, I also managed to find documents that certainly refer to Elicia Weisntein’s family. Malka Weinstein’s brother (Malka was Berish’s cousin and wife) Mejer Weinstein was recorded in the population traffic control books from 1900. It is known from this entry that Mejer lived at Kopernika Street 11. The analysis of family trees that were delivered by Elicia/Alicja and her cousin Yacov Blasbalg indicates that the entry is about Malka’s brother. Information about Mejer Weinstein is also included in registration cards from Rzeszów from the interwar period. They show that Mejer was born in Gorlice in 1900, and that he officially registered in Rzeszów in 1931 (What was he doing between 1900 and 1931? It is, of course, unknown. Maybe he came back to Gorlice for some time?). He moved to Ropczyce after 1937. In Rzeszów, Mejer Weinstein was a worker. It is also known that he had a wife, Ryfka (they had a religious wedding; the document says that Ryfka was his „ritual wife”).
The registration cards also mention another Malka’s brother – Izrael Weinstein. Izrael was born in 1912 in Gorlice, and was married to Rózia. He went to Palestine in 1934. Moreover, Rachela Weinstein (mother of Mejer, Izrael, and Malka, and Elicia/Alicja’s grandmother) was also recorded in the registration cards. The document in the Archives in Rzeszów shows that Rachela was born on September 18, 1873, and registered in the city of Rzeszów in 1918. Her father’s name was Abraham, and she lived on Kołłątaja Street. The official wrote that she was a widow. However, I do not know when her husband (Mojżesz Tadeusz HaCohen) died.
Berish Weinstein was especially interesting to me. In The History of Rzeszów vol. III there is a description of his poetry written in first-person narration, which reflected the daily life of the Jewish community of Rzeszów in various forms and shapes; a community that was then very clearly visible in the city landscape, but today, unfortunately, belongs to the past. The poem Raishe was part of Berish Weinstein’s autobiographical trilogy and is the only poem about Rzeszów that has ever been written (but concerns only the Jewish community). From various articles available on the Internet, one can learn that while emigration Berish Weinstein was a journalist, publishing articles and commentaries in foreign political periodicals, and was noticed in the circles of Jewish researchers of 20th century Judaic culture. His figure was described on the Jewishgen Internet genealogy website, which is part of the international Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find Berish Weinstein (who was allegedly born on March 18, 1905 in Rzeszów) in the archives. His name does not appear in the birth books of the Israeli record in Rzeszów with this date – which I found with great amazement, because I carefully looked through the entire book from this year. It should be noted here that information about the date and place of birth of Berish Weinstein (year: 1905, place: Rzeszów) appears in several sources, not only online ones, including: A Bibliographic Dictionary of Jews from Podkarpackie by Andrzej Potocki, Virtual Shtetl website, www.encyclopedia.com, www.jewishgen.org. However, Yacov Blasbalg informed me that there is different data on JRI-Poland website. According to it, Berish Weinstein was born in 1902 in Stropko Sarsch in Hungary. Additionally, Berish Weinstein’s name appears there with his mother’s maiden surname – Gerhard. It makes it clear then, that Elicia/Alicja’s grandfather officially began to use the Weinstein surname later.
Although I expected to find a lot more information about the Weinstein family, the experience of visiting the Archives in Rzeszów was unique. It is particularly interesting what the city looked like on Austrian maps and how it functioned a century ago, which can be seen on countless of documents from various administrative authorities and religious institutions. The Archive staff is very helpful: they do an enormous amount of work, serving visitors needing help and keeping all the documentation in a proper order. It is definitely worth going there to satisfy your own curiosity.
Berish Weinstein, through his works, created a personal monument to the city to which he owed his roots, where he grew up and where his family came from. Hence, he probably drew inspiration from the experience gained in the early years of living in the community of fellow believers in Rzeszów. It is a pity that the only poem of its kind, describing the panorama of the city from a hundred years ago, is not widespread, and only a small group of history researchers is aware of its existence. The history of Rzeszów hides the secrets of the history of hundreds of Jewish families, but it seems to me that the awareness of contemporary residents about their lives and achievements is not sufficient.
I was pleased to be able to participate in this project. I wish I could have gained more new information about my family (and perhaps found some lost family members), however it gives me hope that by doing this project students from Rzeszów understand how devastating this time period was for Jewish residents of their town. This kind of project will help to be more mindful and teach tolerance and understanding to others. The only way to prevent future atrocities from occurring is to learn from the past.
Rachela and Mojżesz Tadeusz Weinstein; Malka Weinstein’s parents, Elicia/Alicja Weinstein’s grandparents. Photo courtesy of Elicia Weinstein.
Rachela Weinstein’s registration card. Document from the collection of the State Archives in Rzeszów.
Raishe poem by Berish Weinstein, the grandfather of Elicia/Alicja Weinstein.
The Cover of Rzeszów Jews Memorial Book.
A page from “Rzeszów Jews Memorial Book. The photo at the top left: Rachela Weinstein with two grandchildren, who became the Holocaust victims. The photo at the top right: Mojżesz Tadeusz HaCohen, Rachela’s husband. The photo at the bottom right: Malka Weinstien, daughter of Rachela and Mojżesz Tadeusz Weinstein, Berish Weinstein’s wife. The photo at the bottom left: Malka Weinstein’s tombstone.