[Photo (from left to right): Marta Lis, Esther Goldberg, Yusif (Idul) Lis, Karen Treiger]
“We are all your Family.”
My daughter, Esther spoke these words to Yusef Lis on Friday as she showed him a picture of the extended Goldberg family. We visited Yusef in his home in Marki, just outside of Warsaw. We were on our way back from his place of birth – Bagatele. He lived two houses down from his cousin, Sam Goldberg.
Yusif spent the past 72 years believing that no one from his family or any Jew from Bagatele survived the war.
He kissed Esther and he kissed me – on both cheeks and our heads. I think he was trying to make sure we were real. Standing before him were real live relatives.
“What took you so long?” He asked.
It broke my heart to hear a bit of his story. He was separated from his family as they ran from the Nazis. Alone at the age of 6, he survived the war with his instincts, brains and help from some Polish families. One Polish family allowed him to stay in their barn, but in exchange he had to watch their animals in the field. Though the two young daughters (even younger than he) were kind to him, the father beat him.
After the war, he stayed in Poland and put his Judaism behind him. Being a Jew was not safe. He did not go back to Bagatele after the war. He was afraid that his Polish neighbors would kill him. Later, he married and had three daughters. I have met two of his daughters, Ewa (in Boston), Marta (in Warsaw), as well as his grandson, Victor (Warsaw). The third daughter lives in Germany. Marta was our guide and translator on our visit to Bagatele. Marta described how when she was growing up, others would call her Jid – Jew. When she asked her father what that meant, he said, “it’s nothing, don’t pay any attention.” It was as an adult that she leaned that her father was born Jewish. Her exploration as to what this means for her is an ongoing process.
We found each other by an unlikely shadchin (matchmaker). Father Rafal Figiel of Wonsewo, Poland. I had the honor to meet Father Figiel on Friday in Bagatele (more on our visit to Bagatele later). Back in August, Father Figiel found my blog and reached out to me to let me know of his work on the Jewish communities of Wonsewo and Bagatele before the war and that there is another Goldberg family member who survived. (See blog post September 7, 2016).
Yusif was not the name his parents bestowed on him at his Bris, it is a common Polish name that he took to blend in with the post-war Judenrein population. I am not sure what his Hebrew name was, but his family called him Idul (pronounced Edo). [If anyone knows what Hebrew name this is nickname goes with, please let me know.] His mother’s maiden name was Raiza Goldberg. She was the daughter of Mottle Goldberg of Bagatele. Mottle lived on the other side of the Bagatele, closer to Wonsewo.
As I reflect on our meeting and the emotions that I felt and the tears I watched fall from Idul and Marta’s eyes, I feel that history was changed for one man and one family – the Goldberg family of Bagatele. Sam never knew that he had a surviving cousin, but Idul now knows that Sam survived and that he has family in the United States and Israel. As we were preparing to take our leave, Marta wrapped her arms around her father and held him close as they cried.