Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Holocaust Victims Identified - Tokar Family

This topic is one that I’ve been driven to research and now that we’ve actually identified Holocaust victims, the reality of it is hitting me. I’ve been thinking about writing this all day…I have my tissues handy in case the emotions get to me. Thank you so much cousin Madeline for the information you’ve provided over the past couple of weeks. It led me to new records and helped me connect records that have been sitting in my binders for several years to actual family members.

My great-grandmother is Jennie Schneider. Until 2 weeks ago, all I knew about her was that her given name was Sheyna Tokarzh, she was born in either Terespol or Brest-Litovsk, Poland circa 1888, she came to the US in 1928 and died in Brooklyn in 1956. From her 1908 Brest marriage record, the groom was my great grandfather Moshko Shnayder, and her father’s name was Moshko-Gershko Tokarzh. This was the only information I knew for certain.

Thanks to cousin Madeline, I learned that Jennie had a sister named Raizel Toker Karinsky (Krinsky) and that she and Jennie were 2 of possibly 8 siblings and the only 2 members of the immediate family to escape Europe before WWII. Raizel emigrated to Eretz Israel. I had always heard that some of my grandpa Saul’s cousins died in the Holocaust but their names always seemed beyond my reach. Madeline provided a very important clue last night…her sister Sydell’s Hebrew name is Szprinca. I was waiting on this answer, staring at several records I pulled from my binders. I can now say with 99.9% certainty that I have identified 9 Holocaust victims from the Tokar family.

Before I list their names, some background on these records. The Jewish population in Brest at the start of WWII was approximately 24,000. That represented about 40% of the population of the city but the Jews owned 90% of the businesses so Brest was very much a Jewish town. The Germans arrived in June 1941. Late in the month of June, the Germans took 5,000 Jewish men from the homes and executed them in a local brickyard. In November & December 1941, the ghetto was formed and all of the Jews in the city had to move into the designated areas. The Germans, being anal when it came to paperwork, created ledgers listing all of the ghetto residents and issued photo IDs, called passports, to every resident 14 years of age or older. Children 13 and under were listed on their mother’s passport, or if she was deceased or not in the ghetto, the father’s passport. Passports were issued to 12,258 individuals. On October 15, 1942 when the ghetto was liquidated the passports were collected and, amazingly, all survived in the local archives. The passports were microfilmed by Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They have also been translated and indexed into a searchable database hosted by JewishGen. About 3 years ago, I contacted Yad Vashem for copies of all passports for people with surnames sounding like Tokar and Sznajder. I have 39 passports with names that sound like Tokar and 10 with names that sound like Sznajder. I’ve been through them several times but until now could not make any connection. Here is the link for the database on the JewishGen website: http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Belarus/brest.htm. It shows a picture of the monument at Bronnaya Gora.

These are our family members (BGP means I have the passport):

>Mojsze Tokar, born 1852, son of Meir and Itka, BGP, a butcher per the 1937 taxpayers list
>>Szymon Tokar, born 1885, son of Mojsz and Szprynca, BGP, a butcher per the 1937 taxpayers list
>>>Szprynca Tokier, born 1926, daughter of Szymon and Frejda , BGP
>>>Rosa Tokar, born 1930, list on father’s BGP
>>>Saul Toker, born 1910, son of Shimon and Frida – Page of Testimony by Sidor Toker, Buenos Aires
>>Icko Tokar, born 1897, son of Mojse and Szprinca - BGP and original Brest birth record
>>>Abram Tokar, born 1920, son of Icko and Bela - BGP
>>>Malka Tokar, born 1924, daugher ot Icko and Bela - BGP
>>>Szprinca Tokar, born 1928, daughter of Icko and Bejla - BGP
>>Sheine Tokar, born c. 1888, daughter of Moshko-Gershko and Seidel (Szprinca) - various Polish & US records, emigrated to US 1928
>>Reyzl Toker, born 1904, daughter of Movsha and Shprintse - original Brest birth record, emigrated to Eretz Israel sometime after 1928

That’s 7 ghetto passports plus one minor child listed on her father’s passport for a total of 8 who were in the ghetto. Saul Toker is identified from a Page of Testimony submitted by his brother Sidor Toker in Buenos Aires. The parents’ names match so it is likely that Saul and Sidor are Szymon’s sons, Jennie’s nephews. I added Jennie and Reyzl to the list so we can see them all together. Reyzl was still living (under her maiden name) in Brest in 1928 when Jennie and the children left Poland. These records account for 4 of a possible 8 children for Mojsze and Szprynca. The 1937 Brest taxpayers list shows 3 other Toker/Tokar men who were butchers, Rubin, Zawel, and Mejer. These may be sons of Mojsze. They did not live in the ghetto so they either escaped the region while they could or they were killed before the ghetto was formed. If they were killed, I hope they went out with a fight.

The children of Mojsze were born over a long period of time, 1885 to 1904. It was not uncommon for the youngest child to be a full generation younger than their oldest sibling. Mojsze was already in his mid-30s when he became a father. Maybe Szprynca was much younger. Madeline said that her sister Sydell has a photo of Szprynca’s gravesite. She would have died before 1926 when the first of the 2 granddaughters (listed above) named for her was born. It’s amazing to have the gravesite photo because there is a sports stadium on top of the old Jewish cemetery in Brest (the Soviets saw cemeteries as a waste of land…I’m sure the fact that it was Jewish cemetery made the decision easier). See http://charter97.org/en/news/2009/4/15/17323/.

On the morning of October 15, 1942, all 16,934 registered residents of the ghetto (and several thousand shipped in from other towns that were not in the ledgers) were herded onto trains and taken to Bronnaya Gora where the death pits had already been dug and the killing had already begun. We don’t know if our ancestors died on this day or if they succumbed to starvation or disease (called “natural causes” by the Germans) before that. In 1944, when the Russians liberated Brest, there were 9 Jews in the city. They had been hidden by non-Jewish friends. There are 20 known survivors from the thousands of Brest residents. If anyone wants more details, I have a copy of a 1998-9 written by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and American Jewish Committee. 1 person is known you have actually escaped the pits.

Maybe when we light our yizkor candles next month we can remember these ancestors by name. It’s probably been a long time since anyone has done that. I need to look into submitting Pages of Testimony for the 8 that I know died in the ghetto. Maybe instead of mailing them I will deliver them in person to Yad Vashem when I’m there in January. For now, I will add them to our family tree and scan in these passports. Note that the passports are in Polish. Polish is based on the Latin alphabet so while we can’t read the entire document, we still make out the names. There are online translators available for the typewritten text….I know one that can handle the special Polish letters.

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