Roots information has been coming at me through Outlook and Facebook. First, my Uncle Norm Pollack (mom’s brother) wrote to me (the family genealogist for my generation) for information about a distant ancestor. Then First-Cousin-Once-Removed Norm Vendeland (Mom’s first cousin; their mothers are sisters) was on TV news and in the papers just yesterday for being given medals of his brother Albert, who died in World War II. In looking through my notes and early correspondence to answer Uncle Norm’s question, I saw information that was relevant to the story of Albert, in the same letter, so I’m sharing it here for anyone who might be interested—especially members of the Pollack-Katz-Dratler-Ilyovitz Family.
As a brief background to the letter, eight years ago, Aunt Elaine (sister to Norm and my mom) wrote to me to ask if I could share some roots information with Brett, son of Cousin Michael Rosenstein (read the letter to learn our double relationship), for a school project. I sent him the below letter. I guess roots projects are popular nowadays because I received the call from other cousins to help their kids. I always sent a variation of the same letter that is posted below.
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Hi, First-Cousin-Once-Removed and also Second-Cousin-Once-Removed Brett (Ask your dad to explain what I mean by that; if he doesn’t know, read on),
Your grandmother said you were doing some roots work and asked if I could send some information to you. Here it is: I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get it to you before your assignment was due (but I understand you got the answers you needed without me—Lesson: Check more than one source when you have a question). But once I had the momentum going it was hard to stop. Picture Michael Jordan in midair not making the shot. I hope you find it interesting. To me it’s always fascinating. We can talk next time we’re together if you have any additional questions.
On your grandmother’s side of the family, there are 5 children in your grandmother’s generation and you know them all: Ruth, Shirley, Marvin, Elaine, and Norman. My mother is Shirley so, since she and Elaine are sisters, your father and I are first cousins and you and Blake are my first cousins once removed; you are second cousins to David and Carrie. Your grandmother’s parents, your great-grandparents, were Harry Pollack and Yetta Dratler.
Harry (Hermann) was born on November 28, 1889 in Sziget, a town in the province of Marmorsch, which was then in Austria-Hungary. The famous Holocaust author Elie Wiesel is from Sziget also. Today the area is in the country of Rumania. Situated in the Carpathian Mountains, it was a large industrial town, a melting pot for the area (mostly Polish with a few Hungarian) because it was the home of a cane factory (walking sticks). Outside the factory area, the population was desolate.
Harry was the second oldest of 9 children: Sarah, Harry, Hermine, Frank, Friede, Bessie, Morris, Lew, and Faye. It is possible that you met Faye but she is no longer living. She was the last of her generation. All of them came to this country. In the Old Country Harry was a skilled craftsman, a cabinet maker, who served as the house carpenter in the Kaiser’s army. It was a preferred position because he didn’t have to go on maneuvers and he lived in the servants’ quarters. His brother Frank was also a carpenter. Harry was the first from his family to come to America. He travelled on the S. S. Amerika out of Hamburg, Germany. He left on January 22, 1913, a year after his father died, and arrived at Ellis Island on February 2. In this country, after his brother Frank arrived, they formed a partnership as carpenters and builders. In fact, they built the house in which I grew up in Beachwood. Elaine and Shirley’s brother Marvin followed in Harry’s footsteps as craftsmen, and Marvin’s sons Mark, Gary, and Alan have followed in his.
Harry’s parents, your great-great grandparents, were named Mordechai (Martin) Schmuel Pollak and Chaya (Anna, Hannah) Katz (born 1870, Sipinka [Szaplancza], Austria-Hungary; d. 1936, Cleveland). Note that there was no “c” in “Pollak.” The “c” was added when members of the family came to the United States. Unfortunately Mordechai was not among them. He worked in the Old Country as a butcher. He died in Sziget in 1912 when a knife cut on his finger became infected.
Mordechai was the second of five children born to your great-great-great grandparents Meyer Pollack and Faiga Ethel (I don’t know her maiden name): Moishe, Mordechai Schmuel, Pesach, Shumoo, and Munish. Meyer and Faiga were both born in the 1820s to 1830s and died in 1910 in Sziget. Meyer also was a butcher.
According to Yetta, she and Harry were related. Here’s what she told me. See if you can follow: “Moishe’s children I knew very well because coincidentally his wife was also related to my mother. They (the wife and her sibling) were Harry’s cousins through his father, to me through my mother. Moishe’s wife (Yitta)’s mother’s mother was my mother (Frieda)’s mother (Feiga Ruchel)’s sister.” That would make Yetta and Harry non-blood second cousins (or second cousins-in-law).
That’s as far back as I go on the Pollack side.
On the Katz side it’s a bit more complicated. Chaya Katz had three brothers, Meyer Chaim, Hascal Hersch, and Schmuel David, and one sister, Reizel. Of the five, only Meyer Chaim (I’m not sure of this) and Chaya came to America. Their parents, your great-great-great grandparents, were Jacob Lieberman and Sara Katz. You know that in this country it is traditional for the wife to take the husband’s name. In their case, Jacob took Sara’s name and became Jacob Lieberman Katz. One story has it that he did it to avoid the draft; Jews were often drafted against their will and treated poorly in the army. According to another story, Sara was a Cohan (Katz is a contraction for Cohan Tzedek, or “Righteous Priest”) and the rabbi told her Lieberman was no name for a Cohan so her husband took her name. One story says the Katzes worked as butchers. Another says that Jacob was a blacksmith.
Sara was one of 5 children born to your great-great-great-great grandparents, Fishel Katz and Chaya (I don’t know her maiden name), who were probably born in the 1780s to 1790s. The 5 children’s names were Mayer, Leah Malka (married David Davis, known as Davidovitz in the Old Country), Yankel, Sara, and Rezzi. I told you that Sara married Jacob Lieberman and they had five children, including Chaya. Then Sara died. Guess what. Jacob married her younger sister Rezzi and had 8 more children: Herzl (I think that’s the name), Heschel, twins Fishel and Sarah (Sarah died young), Feiga, Jenny, Frank, and Rosie. So, because they shared the same father as Jacob and Chaya’s children, they were sisters and brothers to each other. But since their mothers were sisters, they were also first cousins to each other! Herzl and Heschel did not come to America; the others did. Sura and Rezzi’s older sister Leah Malka married David Davis (known as Davidovitz in the Old Country). He came to America at the turn of the century, the first in our family from that side. He settled in Cleveland because other Marmorsch Jews were already there. Everyone else in the Katz Family followed him.
Yetta was the fourth oldest of six children: Maurice, Sam (Lezar), Daniel, Yetta, Rachel, and Zelda. Rachel died in Europe. The other children eventually came to America. None of them are still living. No one is exactly sure when Yetta was born but for years she celebrated her birthday as April 28, 1899. Then, when she had long since settled in Cleveland, in the closing days of World War II, her sister Zelda’s son was killed while in the U.S. army and the date of his death was April 28 (1944). Not wanting to celebrate a birthday on such a sad anniversary, Yetta adopted April 5 as her birthday. She was born in Ruskovce, also in Marmorsch and moved with her family to nearby Sziget five years later. Growing up, Yetta knew of Harry but Harry, who was over nine years older than Yetta, didn’t know her until they met and started dating in Cleveland. According to Yetta, whom your dad and I knew as Grandma Pollack, Harry’s brother Frank also had eyes on her. It’s a good thing Harry—Grandpa Pollack—won out or I wouldn’t be telling you this story.
Yetta’s parents, your great-great grandparents, were named Harry Dratler (according to Grandma Pollack, born 1858; Ruskovce, Austria-Hungary; died 1936, Cleveland; according to headstone at Park Synagogue Cemetery, born 1870; died 1935) and Chaya Friede Ilyovitz (according to Grandma Pollack, born 1875, Sziget; Austria-Hungary; died 1946, Cleveland; according to headstone, born 1875; died 1946). Harry made clay ovens (fireplaces that were built onto sides of houses) in Ruskovce, where Yetta was born. In this country he was a cement contractor.
Harry was the oldest of six children: Harry, Sruel (Israel), Toyvya, Avraham, Ettel (or Edja), and Schloyma. I believe they all came to this country but Schloyma died in the Holocaust after returning to Sziget from the United States.
Harry’s parents were Nathan Dratler (died Ruskovce, Austria-Hungary, 1908-09) and Rivka (I don’t know her maiden name; died December 1874). According to Grandma Pollack, Nathan had at least two brothers. He was a general store owner in Ruskovce. After Rivka died, he remarried. I suspect all the children were from his first marriage but I don’t know for sure. According to Grandma Pollack, she was named after Rivka’s mother Yitta. “My mother never met her. She was already dead by the time my mother was expecting me,” she told me. “One night, this Yitta came to visit her. When she woke up, she realized it was her mother-in-law’s mother. She realized she had to name me after her. She woke up and realized she never met her. It was all a dream.” Elaine’s sister Ruth was named after Rivka.
Frieda was the oldest of seven children: Chaya Frieda, Reisa, Yitta, Esther, Devorah, Melkah, and the only brother, Elya. Devorah and her husband Gabriel Ilyovitz, who was a cousin, both died in the Holocaust.
Frieda’s parents were Avram Jacob Ilyovitz (died 1908, Sziget, Austria-Hungary) and Feiga Rachel (Fanny or Rachel; I don’t know her maiden name; died 1939, presumably in a concentration camp). Avram was a bookkeeper.
In Sziget Yetta was denied a Hebrew education because she was a girl but she learned by listening in on her brothers’ lessons. (One time, she told me, she did take Hebrew lessons, which was unheard of for a girl, but she quit because the teacher was flirting with her.) In public school she was denied textbooks because she was Jewish but she was usually able to obtain them by being persistent. I remember that when I used to visit her as a child, she always had a book at her side. Fourteen-year-old Yetta came to America with her younger sister, Zelda, and their mother, Frieda, ten years after their father, Harry, had sailed alone to Montreal, settled briefly, and then resettled in Cleveland. Today there are Dratler families living in Montreal. The few I’ve talked to didn’t know if we were related but I suspect we are. That research remains to be done. Since Yetta was five when she moved to Sziget, her father must already have been in America by that time.
Yetta, Zelda, and Frieda left the port of Bremen, Germany (if I am reading the sloppy handwriting on the Ship Passenger Arrival List correctly) on June 23, 1914, travelling on the S. S. Kronprinz (Crown Prince) Wilhelm. Grandma Pollack later described it as “a real pit,” rats and all. They arrived at Ellis Island on July 1. According to Grandma Pollack, if they had waited two more weeks before deciding to leave they would have been trapped in Marmarosh-Sziget because World War I broke out and all immigrant travel was halted. At the border immigrants were given physical exams and physically unhealthy immigrants were refused admittance. Grandma told me she was afraid she would fail the eye test and be deported because one of her eyes had a dent in the pupil which caused the pupil to be irregularly shaped. Luckily they tested only her good eye. In the Old Country, Grandma Pollack went by the name Ilonca. In America, she told me, she took the name Yetta because a boy she liked in grade school told her it sounded more American.
And in Conclusion
Harry and Yetta’s fourth child, your paternal grandmother Elaine, married Stan Rosenstein, your paternal grandfather. Stan’s mother, your great grandmother Ella Kroshinsky, had a sister, Ida, who married a man named Adolph Wachsberger. They had four children. The youngest, Si, married Elaine’s older sister Shirley and had four sons. Hmm, this sounds familiar; doesn’t it? So, if you figure it out, you can see that Si and Stan are first cousins because their mothers were sisters. Therefore, your father and I, in addition to being first cousins because our mothers are sisters, are second cousins because our fathers are first cousins; and you are my first cousin once removed and second cousin once removed; you and Blake are second cousins and third cousins to David and Carrie.
Best to you in your journey into your past,
Cousin Once-Removed and Twice-Removed Ken
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