Thursday, January 21, 2016

From the Shtetl to The Cape

Today would have been my dad's 92'nd birthday. I still think of him a lot. I most certainly never appreciated him nearly enough while he was alive. By now I have forgotten the bad temper and stubbornness. I hardly remember how he used to shout at my mom and at the maids and that we never spoke one word during my 12 grade year. I remember him as a sweet old man who was generous and kind. Someone who loved his grandchildren and would drive miles for a bargain, especially on Diet Coke. I have this picture of him in his bar holding a drink and smiling. It's up on the wall next to me here in my home office. He looks like such a fun guy.

The thing that struck me the other day is that the world my kids are growing up in is as different from the world I knew as my world was to my parents. I have been doing some research into the family archives as I am perhaps looking to refresh our Lithuanian roots. Some of the Lithuanian archives are available online (Jewishgen.org has some of the Lithuanian archives transposed into online databases) and I found a record of Vulf and Yudel's passport application in Feb 1929. These are my paternal grandparents I believe. I also found a record of their marriage in 1923 in Butrimonys in Lithuania. We were Ostrinski in those days. We have a copy of the ship's manifest from London to Cape Town when my mother's family came over, and it looks like my father's father was on the same ship. He probably sent for his family once he got established. We never really pushed my parents to record their history and now it's too late. I enjoy doing the research, it's the archaeologist in me and I hope to find more info in the US next week.

I looked into what happened in the town of Butrimonys during the war and found a web page that gave the story of "The Destruction of the Shtetl Butrimantz". It seems the Jews of Lithuania did not fair well in the Holocaust. There were 235000 Jews when Germany invaded the country and 18000 left at the end of the war. Of the 2000 Jews living in the Shtetl of Butrimantz only 10 survived. The Sirota family,my paternal grandmother's family, came from Butrimantz. There are Sirotas named among the victims of the massacre, I don't know at this point whether we were related.

So my dad was born into a world of chaos. His family fled their homeland when he was very young. They settled in South Africa. I'd imagine nothing could have been further from the Shtetl in Lithuania than Cape Town, South Africa. He worked hard all his life to open a world of possibilities and what he hoped would be financial stability for his children and grandchildren. Looking from where he came, I think I understand this more than ever.