Inspired both by a cousin’s Bat Mitzvah and a friend’s theatrical activities in Poland for the 2009 Grotowski Year, I’ve been finding out more about some of my family’s origins in the small town of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, a village that dates back to the 1300s. My father sent me this link to an image of the stones from the Jewish cemetery – Ostrowiec’s population was over 60% Jewish before WWII. The town website puts the death toll at 11,000 Jews. The brothers of the Weinberg family who survived, as far as we know, were Isadore, Murray, and my grandfather David, all of whom came to the US (the Midwest) before things got so bad you couldn’t leave.
The Chicago Weinbergs I’ve met are descended from Isadore and Murray. I’ve just learned that there are more Toronto Weinbergs to whom we might be related somehow, although I’m not sure whose descendants they would be – and that David spent 5 years in Toronto before making his way West.
If I were to go back to Europe I think I would be more prepared to visit some of the Jewish history of the region that I was when I went to Berlin, at 21. I didn’t visit a Holocaust museum, a graveyard, or even a synagogue. It felt like just being there, as a Jewish director working with German actors, was close enough to the past, and if I did more than that, I would implode. The most glaring reminder was traveling through Munich on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and seeing that Dachau was still a stop right in the middle of their subway line.
I was also more concerned, at the time, with the cultural and ethnic turmoil of the present – the relationship between Germans and Turkish immigrants in Berlin, and the ongoing situation in Israel (which was bad in 2001, but not as bad as it is now). It seemed like dwelling on the events of the forties wasn’t going to help anyone more forward on any fronts.
It’s easier to think about these things from the distance of the US, but if I were to go back, I guess I would have to make more of an effort to visit that history in person.