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I Went to Look for Lunna Descendants and Found My Own Third Cousins

By Ruth Marcus

mordechai

The author’s great-grandparents Tsherne Feigel, daughter of Yechezkel, and Ovsei Mordechai Kosovsky, Lunna 1923

 

This essay describes the various stages and sources I used in tracing Lunna descendants, which resulted in my finding my third cousins. In doing so, I thought about Saul, the son of Kish who went to look for asses and found a kingdom (I Samuel 9-10).

My search started at the beginning of 2006 when I posted the following message on the internet and various other sites and publications in Israel:

“Fifty years have passed since the last memorial ceremony for the Jewish community of Lunna-Wola took place in Tel Aviv. We are planning to arrange a reunion of the descendants of the former Lunna-Wola residents. Please get in contact with me if you have any information about any Lunna-Wola descendants.”

map
Map - Lunna, Belarus

The town of Lunna (Lunno) is located today in Belarus, about 39 kilometers (24 miles) southeast of Grodno. Between WWI and WWII the Grodno region, including Lunna, belonged to the Bialystok Province of Poland. Lunna and the small neighboring village of Wola (Volia) had once been populated by about 1,600 Jews, 66% of the total population. Lunna and Wola are now municipally united under the name of Lunna. Currently there are about 1,000 residents living in Lunna, none of them Jewish. Lunna is the place where my late father, Yitzchak Eliashberg, was born in 1910 and lived up until he made Aliya to Eretz Israel, then Palestine under the British Mandate, in 1932. During the last eight years, I have been researching the life of the Jewish community of Lunna before WWII and its bitter fate in the Holocaust. Some of my research results were published in a book entitled "Once There Was a Small Town Named Lunna" (2005; in Hebrew) and are posted in English on the Lunna webpage, JewishGen KehilaLinks.

During the 1950s former Lunna-Wola residents living in Israel organized several memorial ceremonies ("Azkarot") for the Holocaust victims of Lunna-Wola. The last memorial ceremony took place in Tel Aviv in 1957. In 2005, I found a notebook that included lists of names and addresses of those who participated in these memorials. Most of these participants had passed away by this time. I then decided to try to trace the descendants of these individuals by using the lists found in the notebook and the assistance of Eliezer Eisenschmidt, a former Lunna resident who survived the Holocaust. In addition, I obtained relevant information from Pages of Testimony available at Yad Vashem, which include the names of the persons who submitted the Pages of Testimony, as well as additional assistance from my colleagues at the Family Roots Forum.

I began my search by telephoning any individual who I thought might be a descendant of someone on my list, and asking the following question: "Are you Ms. X, the daughter of Ms. Y, who came to Eretz Israel from Lunna-Wola before the Second World War?" If I got an excited reply, "Yes that's me… but how did you find me?" I knew that I found one of the descendants of a name on the list. This project took about six months and many descendants were found. However, descendants of a few names on the list, including Bella Murstein, could not be found.

The result of these searches was a Lunna Descendants Reunion, which was held in March 2006 in Beit Vohlin, Givatayim, Israel. About 150 people participated in this reunion coming from all over Israel. The program featured presentations about the life of the Jewish community of Lunna-Wola before the war and about the Lunna Jewish cemetery that was partially restored by a group of students of Dartmouth College in 2005. A memorial ceremony ("Azkara") was held for the Jewish community, which came to an end with the deportation of the Jews from the Wola Ghetto to Kelbasin transit camp on November 2, 1942, and then to the Auschwitz extermination camp on December 5, 1942, where most of them were murdered on December 8, 1942.

In October 2008 I went with Barbara Title from New York on a visit to Lunna, my second visit to Belarus. Barbara’s mother, Sara (Sally) Yedwab, like my father, was born in Lunna, and she came to the USA in the early part of the 20th century. During that visit, we were invited to the house of Leon and Valiancina Karpovich, present Lunna residents. Leon is interested in the general history of the Grodno region, including the town of Lunna and the history of its Jewish community, and has published several essays about these subjects in Belarusian and Polish magazines. His wife, Valiancina, was the mayor of Lunna from 1974 to 2003 and is now retired.

With the help of my friend Victoria from Grodno, who was our wonderful interpreter, we had a most interesting conversation with the Karpoviches. We exchanged information about Lunna-Wola and they showed us materials including cards, letters and documents they received from several Jews who had previously visited Lunna. One card included the name of Jaime Dvoretzky, who had visited them in 2003. Jaime left his card with his address in Argentina and a photocopy of the marriage certificate of his parents. According to the marriage certificate, Jaime's mother, Chaya, daughter of Meir Murstein and Sheine Peskowska, was born in Lunna in 1910 and married to Moshe, son of Yedidiah Dvoretzky from Grodno. When I saw the name of Chaya, daughter of Meir Murstein from Lunna, I thought that she was most likely related to Bella Murstein who was one of the names on the lists for which I was unsuccessful in tracing a descendant.

bella and cahya murstein
Bella (Murstein) Domovitch (left) and Chaya (Murstein) Dvoretzky, Toronto 1965

When I returned home to Israel, I showed the card with Jaime's address to my next door neighbor who had come to Israel from Argentina. To my surprise, my neighbor knew Jaime since they both grew up in the same town in Argentina. I then sent a message to Jaime Dvoretzky in Argentina, which I wrote in Spanish with the help of my neighbor. Jaime and I then started to correspond by using the "Google Translator" from English to Spanish and Spanish to English, and the help of my neighbor. He wrote that his mother Chaya (b. 1910) and her two sisters, Basha (b. 1905) and Bella (b. 1914) were all born in Lunna. The youngest one, Bella, settled in Israel around 1934 and she was the Bella Murstein who participated in the memorials for the Holocaust victims of Lunna-Wola, and whose descendants had not been found during my search. Bella left Israel in the 1950s when she moved to Canada with her husband and two sons. Jaime's parents Chaya (Murstein) and Moshe Dvoretzky moved to Argentina in 1930. The older sister, Basha, remained in Lunna and perished in the Holocaust. I now knew why I was not able to find any of Bella Murstein’s descendants in Israel and now had their names and addresses in Canada.

In January 2011 Jaime visited Israel and we met at Eliezer Eisenschmidt's house because Mr. Eisenschmidt had known the Murstein family from Lunna. According to Mr. Eisenschmidt, after the death of Sheine (Peskowska) Murstein (Jaime's maternal grandmother), the three girls, Basha, Chaya (Jaime's mother) and Bella remained with their father, Meir Murstein, who remarried in Lunna. Meir died in 1922 and the three girls had a hard and sad childhood in Lunna. Jaime then mentioned that his mother told him that the three orphan girls had an uncle named Asher Kosovsky, a wealthy person who owned a flour-mill in Grodno. According to Jaime, Asher was a "Tzadik" who helped and supported the three orphan girls in Lunna. I was very surprised to hear that and immediately replied with excitement: "Asher Kosovsky is my paternal grandmother's brother! If Asher were an uncle of your mother, Chaya Murstein, then we are related!"

brothers
Asher Kosovsky (first from the right) and his brothers, Grodno 1921

We then tried to figure out how exactly we were related. If Asher Kosovsky were Chaya Murstein's uncle, then either Asher Kosovsky or his wife, Henia nee Smiglinski, would have been a brother or a sister of either Meir Murstein or of his wife, Sheina Peskowska (Chaya's parents). However, none of these four possibilities was true, which meant that Asher Kosovsky was NOT an uncle of Chaya Murstein as mentioned by Jaime Dvoretzky. However, it was still possible that the Kosovsky and Murstein families were somehow related. In order to find the connection between the Kosovsky and Murstein families, it was necessary to check at least one of our generations backward. According to my Kosovsky family tree, Asher Kosovsky was born in Lunna in 1871 to Ovsei Mordechai Kosovsky (b. 1851) and Tsherne Feigel (b. 1852). Moreover, Ovsei Mordechai's father was named Israel Kosovsky, and Tsherne Feigel's father was named Yechezkel. Unfortunately I had no knowledge of the family name of Yechezkel. As previously mentioned, according to Jaime Dvoretzky's family tree, his mother's parents were Meir Murstein and Sheine Peskowska. Unfortunately, Jaime did not know the names of Meir Murstein's or Sheine Peskowska's parents.


Eliezer, Jaime and Ruth at Eliezer Eisenschmidt's house,
Givatayim, Israel 2011

I then researched the JewishGen Belarus Database website which includes the 1858 revision lists from various towns in the Grodno district. The information about my Kosovsky family listed for the town of Grodno was all known to me. However, I then decided to search for the Peskowska and Murstein families in Lunna. The Peskowska family is not listed but the family of Yechezkel, son of Shmil Murstein is listed in Lunna in 1858. According to the list, Yechezkel Murstein was born in 1822, married Sheine Rivka and they had three children: Shmuel (date of birth is not mentioned), Leib Asher (b. 1850) and Tsherne Feige (b. 1852). According to this information, it seems that: (i) Tsherne Feige and Meir Murstein's father were both children of Yechezkel Murstein. At this point we don't know whether Meir Murstein's father was Shmuel or Leib Asher; and (ii) Tsherne Feige, daughter of Yechezkel Murstein, was later the wife of Ovsei Mordechai Kosovsky (these are my great-grandparents). Based on the piece of information stated by Jaime regarding a relation between Asher Kosovsky and Chaya Murstein and conclusions (i) and (ii), it follows that Asher Kosovsky and his siblings, including my grandmother, Batya Kosovsky, were cousins of Meir Murstein, Chaya's father. Therefore, Jaime Dvoretzky and I are third-cousins as are Bella Murstein's children.

In summary, I went to look for Bella Murstein's children in order to invite them to the Lunna Descendants Reunion in Tel Aviv (in 2006); visited Lunna where I was fortuitously given the card of Jaime Dvoretzky from Argentina (in 2008); communicated with Jaime by email with the help of my next door neighbor and then met Jaime in Israel (in 2011) where he mentioned, by the way, that Asher Kosovsky helped his mother, Chaya, and her two sisters, Basha and Bella Murstein when they were orphaned as young girls; then I searched the 1858 Lunna Revision Lists and finally concluded that it is very likely that the children of Chaya (Murstein) Dvoretzky and Bella (Murstein) Domovitch are my third-cousins.

Addendum:
Seven years ago I did not succeed in tracing the descendants of Bella Murstein. Therefore, none of her relatives participated at the Lunna Descendants Reunion which was held in Israel in March 2006. A memorial evening commemorating the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Lunna-Wola Community was recently held in Israel on December 12, 2012. I am very happy that Jaime Dvoretzky, Bella Murstein's nephew, who is also my third-cousin, came from Argentina especially to participate in the memorial ceremony. I feel that the circle is now closed with a great success.

January 2013
Tel Aviv, Israel


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Research Notes and Hints

Portions of Ruth’s research regarding the community of Lunna can be accessed via JewishGen’s Kehilalinks: http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Lunna

Information about the project of the Dartmouth students to restore the Lunna Cemetery can be found at: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~projpreservation/lunna/index.html

You can read Ruth’s impressions and reflections of her first visit to Belarus by accessing the Online Newsletter of the JewishGen Belarus Special Interest Group (SIG): http://www.jewishgen.org/Belarus/newsletter/Lunna.htm

Ruth used a number of resources to find descendants of Lunna and her own previously unknown third-cousins, including:
*Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony
*Family Roots Forum
*JewishGen Belarus Database


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Updated on February 2, 2013.

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