Last Thursday I sat down at my computer and found a Priest and a cousin.
A comment from WordPress was waiting for me. I love receiving comments on the blog – so I clicked.
This comment was in broken English (probably google translate). It was from Father Rafal Figiel. He wrote that he is the Parish Priest in Wonsewo, Poland, just three kilometers from Bagatele (where Sam was born). He told me that he is gathering research for a book on the Jews of Bagatele and Wonsewo. He found my blog and read the piece – Bagatele Scam or No Scam. What a world we live in!
He explained that he has been in touch with Jozef Lis, who lives in Marki, Poland. (We actually passed right through it on our way out to Bagatele. Who knew.) Jozef’s mother was born Raisa Goldberg. She was born and lived in Bagatele until the war.
When I told Shlomo, he just about fell out of his chair. He said that his father told him that one of his sisters, Henya, married a man named Lis and after the war broke out, they went to Russia. No one ever knew what happened to them. Wow, could this be Sam’s sister’s family?
Well, I called Joanna Millick right away and asked if she was available to translate on a Skype call the next day. She said – “yes!” We set up a Skype call with Father Figiel for Friday at 11.
We spoke to Father Figiel for about an hour. He told us that Raisa’s father was Mottle Goldberg. Well, that was strange, because Sam’s father was Zelig, not Mottle. Hmmm. Maybe not Aunt Henya’s family.
Father Figiel gathered his information from Mr. Zeleski, the oldest living person in Bagatele. Mr. Zeleski told the Father that he also remembers Zelig Goldberg. One time, his family home caught fire and Zelig came and helped him put the fire out. Then, Zelig invited the Zeleski family to move into his home until the damage was repaired. Nice!
In order to clarify and gather additional information, Father Figiel has arranged with Marta, Jozef’s daughter, to pick him up and bring him to Bagatelle on September 12. There they will meet with Mr. Zeleski in the hopes of sparking memories and stories about the Jews of Bagatele.
Father Figiel also told us about the Jews of the area before the war. Jews were definitely living in the area by 1800. In 1850, the Jews of Bagatele and Wonsewo petitioned their “kahal” – the Jewish administration for the region – which was in Wengrow. They wished to have their own Jewish administration office (‘kahal”) in Wonsewo. This request was granted and it was recorded that there were 151 Jews in the new “kahal” (meaning Wonsewo and Bagatele area).
Father Figiel gave me Marta Lis’s contact information. We promised to share research and stay in touch.
On Sunday, I sent a very excited e-mail to Marta Lis. It bounced. I contacted Father Figiel (now facebook friends!) to see if he had a different email address. He messaged me back and gave me a different e-mail. It was getting late and I decided to try tomorrow.
I know, I should not look at screens before I go to sleep. But I admit that I checked my e-mail Sunday evening, just as my eyes were closing. Well, I woke right up and my eyes fell out of my head. I had an e-mail from Ewa Lis Winston. She got my e-mail from her sister, who had gotten it from Father Figiel. She lives in Boston! Can we have a skype call?
Yes! We set it up for the next day – Monday – Labor Day at 4 PM. Shlomo was on call, but he should be back by 4 – that way he can join us.
We spoke to Ewa and her husband Leslie Winston for a good hour. We were all delighted to meet new cousins. We clarified that her grandmother Raisa is definitely not Henya. Her great, grandfather’s name was Mottle Goldberg, not Zelig. Mottle had seven children and lived in Bagatele. He was a farmer and an animal trader, just like Zelig. Mottle and Zelig Goldberg were clearly related. But were they brothers or cousins? We are hoping that the meeting between Jozef Lis and Mr. Zeleski can clarify.
Ewa described how her grandmother – Raisa Goldberg, daughter of Mottle of Bagatele — married a man named Lis who came from another small town about eight kilometers away. After their marriage, they lived in Bagatele and had children, one of whom is her father, Jozef Lis. Jozef was six years old when the war broke out. His parents and siblings were murdered by the Nazis. But he survived by hiding in the woods and people’s barns. After the war he chose to stay in Poland. He was baptized and lived his life as a Christian.
Ewa lives just outside of Boston and is a professor of ethics at Tufts University. We told her that she lives in a city with the largest concentration of Sam Goldberg descendants. We told her that she has six blood relatives living within an hour and a half drive. She was shocked. She always believed that they had no surviving relatives from Bagatele and now here are cousins right in Boston. Well, until last Friday, we also believed that no Goldberg relatives survived the war.
A family reunion is in order.
Picture above: Goldberg family. Taken at Jack and Emma Goldberg’s wedding – December 28, 2014 (Seattle, WA)