Translated by Pamela Russ
Reb Yaakov Khenokh Cymerman/Tzymerman, of blessed memory (ZL), was born somewhere in the year 1883 in Serock. Also his father, Reb Yitzkhok Meyer (called Itche Meyer the Khasid), and his mother Brayna, and even his grandfather were all Serockers.
Reb Cymerman was a student of the Serocker Rav, Rabbi Yosef Levenshtayn, of blessed memory, and he was married in Ostrolenka. After the days of being supported by his father-in-law Reb Yitzkhok Mordekhai, he returned to Serock and occupied himself with business. He was a tremendous student of religious studies and a very wise man.
When he was in his twenties, Reb Cymerman settled in Danzig, and was very active in the Jewish community and in organizing the Orthodox Jewish life.
In his thirties, Reb Cymerman arrived in London, where he has elected as the chairman of the Vaad Harabbonim (established Rabbinic Committee). Later
Cover of book (sefer) written by Reb Cymerman, titled Imrei Yakov,
The Sayings of Yakov. Published in London, 1943
he took the position of Chief Rabbi for the United Orthodox Communities (Federation).
Reb Cymerman soon became well known as a community minded businessman among the Jewish population, and among the youth as well, in the entire England.
After World War Two, Rav Cymerman was very involved with getting help for the Jewish refugees from Europe and became known as a great philanthropist and was well being loved in all of England, even among the assimilated Jews within the youth. He was also regularly invited as mediator in many problematic situations.
Rav Cymerman died in 1964 in London. Thousands of Jews escorted him to his final resting place. He left three sons and a daughter: The oldest son, Yosef Eliezer, is a well-known businessman and the director of the Jewish Federation. The second son, Borukh Moyshe, is a leader in the Agudah, and writer for the weekly Agudah paper, in English and Yiddish. The third son, Yitzkhok Meyer, is a merchant; and the grandson, Binyomin Cymerman, is a professor in London.
Rav Cymerman was the author of the book Imrei Yakov (The Sayings of Yakov), in two volumes, and also left much correspondence that has not yet been printed.
In memory of my father
by Shmuel B.
Translated by Pamela Russ
Menakhem Khazzan (the cantor), as he was called, when he was about 61 years old, was destined to struggle with difficult situations for his very existence. But still, he did not become broken, and until the very end of his days, he remained a great believer who carried the challenging situation on his shoulders with strength.
He was born in Lomze to religious parents of aristocratic descent. His father, the cantor and ritual slaughterer (khazen and shokhet) in Lomze, was Reb Eliyohu Brukhanski. His mother, Fruma Gita-Raizel, was a great-granddaughter of the first Lomzer Rav, Reb Zalman Khosid, of blessed memory. He was raised with the true, Jewish, religious spirit. His father died while he was still young, and he had to support not only
himself but also his entire family. He and his two brothers the elder, Malkiel, who was already then a great musician, and the younger one, Yakov-Kopel would leave home and travel around from town to town to daven on Shabbos and to give concerts in order to give his mother and the children some livelihood. They had a huge success with their concerts. They enriched everyone with their wonderful singing. More so, the older one, Malkiel, began to write his own compositions that many cantors used. They were presented with the best marriage proposals, and that is how Malkiel became a son-in-law in Pultusk and the cantor and ritual slaughterer in Serock. My father and this younger brother spent much time with Malkiel and sang in his choir. My father married Shepsel Farber's daughter, Bina Khaya, of blessed memory. He studied how to be a ritual slaughterer. When Malkiel left later on to be the cantor in Nadvorna, my father took over his position in Serock. He hoped with time also to become the ritual slaughter. He was loved by all. He was a strong baritone, and had a clear diction with a Lithuanian dialect. Every word was clear as pearls. He instituted a good choir (with the best voices) of upper class boys who wanted to be in the choir. I remember some of it as if it were today: Yekhezkel the glazier's son; Yisroel Issur Blumberg; Yekhiel Meyer, the son of Elya Khaim; Zishe Vayngrad, Butche Kristel; the sons of Dovid Varshavski, Yekhiel and Khanokh (and Khanokh was the initiator of the Serocker Memorial Book). Also singing were: Khaim Eliezer Gzhebyenyazh, Yisroel Dovid Markevich, Borukh Gurman, and my two brothers Shepsel and Yakov. I also sang in the choir and enjoyed it immensely. Before the holidays, my father would practice with all the choirboys all the holiday prayers, and the heartfelt melodies were carried from the open windows into the streets, and many people would stand nearby and listen.
Later, a shocking event happened in our house. Before the end of World War One, my beloved mother, Bina Khaya, left this world at a young age, leaving four children one daughter Leah and three sons. My father, just as the rest of us, was broken and depressed from this tragedy. The house began to fall apart because my father did not have the wherewithal to raise the children
so he married a second time. The family grew and the income lessened. It was impossible to support the family from a cantor's income. At the same time, he was offered a wonderful cantorial position in Sopot, near Danzig. The previous cantor had left for four years, and he was supposed to come back after that. These four years are the best ones, one can say, that we had. Materially, we revived a little.
My father died of starvation in the Jablonner ghetto in 1942. May their blood be avenged.
by Yakov Brukhanski, New York
Translated by Pamela Russ
The ritual slaughterer (shokhet)from Popov, Reb Mendel Frenkel, was a neighbor of ours, right next door, for many years. His windows from one side looked out on the street corner of the market, and from the other side onto Koshtchushka Street. He was also revered by all the other neighbors of the houses. His household consisted of two sons and three daughters, and he built a respected, aristocratic family. Reb Mendel created a good name around him
As he greeted everyone he met with a staunch good morning using the hard consonant sound of the R (of the raish in gut morgen), inwardly, he was soft and gentle. He never told anyone what was permitted and not permitted on Shabbos (meaning he never reprimanded nor patronized anyone). Since I was then a young boy, one particular scene is etched in my memory
It was early one morning in the 1920's. Over
Poland there raged all types of military groups and their generals, and all kinds of murderers such as Petlura and his gang, General Haller and his gang, the poznanchikes  that controlled Central Poland, and our town came under their rule. The first thing they did was to implement tough anti-Jewish laws. The generations of Polish-German hatred that had been soaked up was poured out onto Jewish heads. One of their decrees was to grab Jews off the streets and from their homes for forced labor and for punishment. We were shocked and as if hit by thunder, when in the middle of one day three poznanchikes with their scarred noses and twisted mustaches stormed into our house and went straight to the disguised door that was hidden by a cabinet, and without even a question, they moved the cabinet and broke open the door to the last hiding place.
And from there they dragged out three Jews and a grown son. They sadistically beat my father and the others, and Reb Mendel Frenkel and his oldest son Shmelke Frenkel, may they rest in peace, began to scream. When they sadistically beat my father and the others, I screamed wildly and couldn't watch. Soon they began ripping out pieces of Reb Mendel's beautifully kept beard. Fists full of hair were ripped out, and the blood ran like water. Reb Mendel moaned, never screamed. The murderers celebrated after that and cut off only one side of the beards from every one of the men, then chased everyone into the streets with their whips. There were already other groups of Jews there, waiting to be sent away for hard labor outside of the city, to dig trenches. Reb Mendel the shokhet went with his beard bandaged up for a long time after that. With time, the murderers disappeared like a bad dream.
Under the rule of Marshal Pilsudski, the Jews were able to catch their breath, and a restraint [of the violence] came to our city Serock. The children grew up and replaced the elderly, and some were later caught up in the progress of things, attaching themselves to the Zionist and culture organizations. Every Sukkos holiday, my father and I would go the Reb Mendel Frenkel's sukkah just for kiddush, even when
I was already all grown up. I especially enjoyed Reb Mendel's leading the morning services (davening shakharis) for the holidays. The best davening was when his son-in-law whom he supported, Reb Moyshe Mendel Litman Razenowicz, would help him. His baritone was heard clearly, and I was accustomed to hearing beautiful music from my father, Menakhem Khazen, may he rest in peace, whom I would also help with the services and with the large choir. Nonetheless, I loved Reb Mendel's moving and spiritual shakharis, much of which I remembered for a long time, as well as his glow as a dignified aristocrat. Once the glow and pride suddenly disappeared, and a difficult change took place in the house of the Popover shokhet. This was in the mid-thirties, that was also the beginning of his end.
Reb Mendel was one of four shokhtim (ritual slaughterers) who, while he was still a young man, was granted his position by the Rav and Elder Reb Yosef Levenshtayn, of blessed memory. So, he was then secure with his livelihood. As the other shokhtim, he was first responsible to G-d, then to the Rav, then to the community. It happened, though, that Reb Mendel was forbidden to practice by the new Rav, Rev Yizkhok Morgenstern. I don't know the real reason to this very day. Maybe, because of the arguments of the butchers and the Rav, in which sometimes the shokhtim happened to take the wrong side, or maybe it was because of Jewish law, and maybe once he didn't slaughter according to the law. For Reb Mendel this was too hard of a nut to crack. He was of the sort that went into an argument and couldn't put up an opposition. But it was even more difficult for him to swallow this from embarrassment and confusion. Because he didn't know if he would ever be able to support his family after this, he took this very much to heart, and G-d should protect us, he lost his mind. He stopped talking to people, confused everything, and stopped eating and drinking. It was useless to try and convince him of anything, even if his family or neighbors pleaded with him, and he even wouldn't listen to the doctor who tried to encourage him to bring some food to his lips not in a nice way, not in an angry way. He began to flicker like a light. His thin body shrank more and more every day, and from his stately beard there remained
only a thin bunch of hair because he did to himself what the poznantchikes once did to him pulled out his beard one hair at a time.
In a short time, Reb Mendel exhaled his last breath, and his soul departed at the age of 58. His wife couldn't survive this, and the following year, she joined him in his eternal rest. The rest of the children, two sons and two daughters, along with their families, were destroyed by the Germans, along with all their townspeople their sisters and brothers of Serock. Only one daughter remained alive the oldest, Golde Leah (today Trebrin). She left for America at the beginning of the thirties and lives in Brooklyn today with her children and grandchildren.
by Melekh Hershfinger
Translated by Pamela Russ
In 1933, he died in a Jewish hospital in Warsaw after an operation. He requested that he be buried in a cemetery in Serock near the grave of the elderly Rav, where he had purchased a plot when he was still alive. When the Warsaw burial committee (khevra kadisha) brought Reb Mendel to town, there was a large crowd waiting on the Warsaw highway to give him their last respects, and they escorted him to his home. The following morning, when the khevra kadisha had done their rituals, the entire town assembled.
How does Mendel jekeles (the simple one) , an ordinary Jew, a shoemaker for generations, come to deserve such respect?
It seems that even those in his home sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, and sons-in-law didn't know what kind of father they actually had. Shoemakers, tailors, and other townspeople recounted the type of person he was. A dedicated father to his children and devoted father to us. Who will now come to us on Friday to see if the kitchen is warm and if we are preparing for Shabbos? If he would see that the kitchen is cold and that the rooms are even colder and that no one is saying a word to the others, Reb Mendel would take out 10 zlotys from his pocket, and he would say: Here, I'm lending this to you, and, woman of the house, hurry go get food and don't forget a bottle of wine for kiddush on Shabbos.And if we held back, he comforted us saying G-d would help us pay it all back.
That's how he would go around to a few families. He sensed who had meager earnings that week. He didn't think about who had old debts that were not paid back. Reb Mendel was the son of Yankel the shoemaker, who had no means to have his son go to school, but only sent him to cheder so that he would know how to pray (daven). That was it. Soon after that, he went to work, becoming a shoemaker, helping his father earn a livelihood for the family and then becoming an honest Jew. That's how he was raised. But in his heart, he earned a holiness
through his compassion,. He felt sympathy for anyone who had pain, who had bad fortune, or if he found out that someone was hungry, he was committed to them all. When he was taken as a soldier to Fonya (meaning to Russia see footnote), he served dutifully, came home, married, and had a family.
But one thing he didn't understand that was the davening (praying), the Torah reading, and the few chapters in Tehilim (Psalms) that were recited daily. He prayed to G-d and didn't really know the meaning of what he was saying. So, he found a solution: He had a teacher (rebbe) come to his home night after night, for a few years, until Mendel understood what he was asking of G-d in the holy language of lashon kodesh (Hebrew). Let the women pray in the mameh loshon, Yiddish. And from then on he understood the sunshine in life. In the mornings, he was amongst the first ones to arrive in the beis medrash (House of Study), and even in the evenings he would learn in the beis medrash between minkha and maariv (evening prayers) with the khevra mishnayos (a regular evening group that studies the Talmud on a daily basis), and was also devoted to the burial society (khevra kadisha) and the khevra tehilim (the group that recited Psalms daily).
Purim time, money would arrive to his name a few hundred dollars from the American Serocker Society for help for the Serocker Jews for Passover, to help them bring in the holidays. In the town, they also collected monies for this cause. From Purim until Pesach (Passover) Reb Mendel didn't work in the evenings. The committee for distributing money for the needy was very busy. Erev Pesach (the evening of the beginning of Passover), he managed to finally catch his breath and was satisfied that all the Serocker Jews would have some taste of Yom Tov. The children sent a report to America stating how much money was given and to whom.
Reb Mendel had a sefer Torah (Torah) written, and led it into the shul (synagogue) under a khuppa (canopy) with music and dance and with a festive meal in the shul for all the Serocker Jews. He had broad shoulders and a round face with a nicely kempt beard, and his eyes looked at everyone with goodness. When he was happy, he would go into his house and sing and dance with his grandchildren, so lively that the house shook.
Friday afternoons, when he had stopped working and was preparing for Shabbos, he looked like another Jew a Shabbos Jew. When he was escorting his sefer Torah into the shul under the khuppa, his
face was all flushed, just as when he would distribute the monies amongst the poor. He left a large family: grown sons, a daughter, and grandchildren. We would all come to his gravesite every year in order to unite ourselves with his figure of light.
by Yehoshua Grosbard, Haifa
Translated by Pamela Russ
All of us in the house knew that Yosel would grow up to be a writer. Already in 1927, at age 22, he debuted in a journal that appeared in Pultusk. He published a poem titled My Town (Mein Shtetele), that drew the attention of a literary critic.
Yosel was born in the year 1905 in the small town of Serock, where the rivers Bug and Narew meet. He would always tell that as a young boy he would swim in the Narew and almost drowned there, and this bound him with love to the town. As a child he and his parents left to Ciekhanow where he completed public school and later helped his father as house painter.
In 1918, Yosel and his parents came to Warsaw. There he worked in a metal factory where he was worked very hard by his boss. At the same time, he was very active in the metalworkers' union and in
the youth movement of the Bund Tzukunft (Future) and later in the Komtzukunft, and after that in the Communist youth parties. He studied hard in his evening courses and worked for a time with artwork, with the artist Moishe Appleboim.
Later, Yosel and his family came to Ciekhanow once again. He was active in the Anski Library, read papers in philosophy, and in social and cultural themes. He wrote and published poetry in various periodicals in Poland and other countries, such as in the newspapers Ferois (Forward), Literarishe Bleter (Literary Pages), and Unzer Veg (Our Way). In his poems one can feel his strong ties to everyday life.
In Tzu Mein Lied (To My Song), published in Argentina's Der Spiegel (The Mirror), he wrote:
Come down from your high placesIn the song Nem Tzunoif Ale Vartzlen (Gather All Your Roots), published in Ferois:
Take off your dress of blue,
I'll furnish you with simple boots
And you'll walk beside me.
Let the joy of the dream fill youYosel's devotion to the concrete realities of his life becomes even more boldly expressed in his cycle of poetry, titled Here in the periodical Ferois in 1938:
From the smallest blade of grass and from each tree,
Oh, try your best to understand
The secret of -- wanting to grow and of being
The restless sweetness in the air
Accept together with the nightingale's sweet song
See how the bird delights
As it faithfully builds its nest.
It's not only the vanished body of my zaide[Page 528]
Dust, beneath the moss-covered stone,
Not only the lingering fearIn the second poem in the same cycle, he wrote:
Of my Mother's -- Father's present plagued days,
But also my proud bright dream
That springs up like a freshly blossoming tree --
My dream of the week to come
Is interwoven and tied to the earth -- here.
Here! From the same mother's lapThe theme of the cycle of the poems is interesting to note: A Grus Dir Bergelson Fun Shtetl (Greetings to Bergelson from the Town), published in the Spiegel, Buenos Aires, 1945. The editor added the following comments:
As the pine tree, poplar tree, and the rose,
So it is that I am also from here.
This poem was sent to us by the poet Y. Grosbard in the year 1938. Already at that time he sensed the huge destruction that was pushing its way into the Jewish cities and towns in Poland.
At that time, Grosbard wrote to us that this song is the beginning of a cycle of poems titled
Greetings to Bergelson from the Town, that I am sending out to you shortly. We waited for the
next poems, but meanwhile the war broke out and not only did we not receive any poems but
there was no information, no sign of his life. Where is that beloved, sad poet Grosbard who
believed in the year 1939 that miracles would yet happen?
In general, Yosel had a determined nature, loved to polemicize over all kinds of questions, and especially loved discussions in literature, poetry, art, and music. He sang and played music with heart. He disliked lofty language, as he wrote in his poem Aibigkeitz Dibrus (Everlasting Speech), published in Yalkut Hamoadim (2), Buenos Aires.
There are all kinds of words, hard as granite,Yosel hated this cold, artificial fire, so he would experience life's events deeply. The war was difficult for him. When the eastern Jews were chased out of Germany, he wrote in his poem Pleitim (Refugees), published in the Folks Zeitung in June 1939:
Crude, raw, that flow with blood.
Words, that strike like lightning and remain cold
Bengali fire that quickly burns out.
These days In the poem Doh (Here) from the cycle, the poet wrote:
That flow past you
Of a burning stream.
And against today's dark wavesIn another of Yosel's poems, we read:
And against the enemy
I will wrestle with raging force,
And I will fight with my teeth,
With my hand and feet,
From my land will rise
The brotherly hand
My doubting heart that never wasUnfortunately, he never lived to see the day of this wonder. These last years, I received from various friends cut out
Believes that miracles will yet happen.
articles of newspapers and journals of the events around Yosel. Also, from his list of friends I received a cut out article in the Forwards, from January 23, 1960. There, the writer Sh. L. Shnayderman wrote the following about a visit to Yosel's hometown Serock:
Serock also produced a talented young poet and painter, Yosel Grosbard, who shortly before the outbreak of the war attracted the attention of the Yiddish literary and art circles in Warsaw. And his deeply emotional poems about the town were expressed in the spirit of the lyricist and the eye of the painter.
In the year 1939, right at the beginning of the catastrophe, Yosel Grosbard wrote a cycle of poems in which he described the deep worries that were spread in his hometown Serock, it was a premonition for the great destruction to come.
by Yosel Grosbard, may his blood be avenged
Translated by Pamela Russ
With words from my gray mood,[Page 532]
I am writing a letter and a poem to you.
Oh, winds! Carry my greetings far away
About my town, tell all.Summer has flown away with the last birdGloomy fall is here now
The days have filled themselves with grayness,
The settlement wrapped itself together
Embraced, as children with a mother.
The sky is patched gray on gray:
All the roads are bare and empty
Full of puddles and mud, after the rain.Angry winds are stormingThe despair covers the narrow streets
And neighing just like the horses
And wish to tear up hundred-year-old trees from here,
Deeply rooted in the earth.
And remains still at the end of the alleys
And wandering, he steps back,
Where else does he have to go?The marketplace, old and withered with cold,
Once bustling now a played out hero.
At a table, a woman with a basket freezes, a Jew,
And behind them the stones often shine red.
The train station an indifferent locale,
Its walls sinking and dreaming in permanent sorrow.
Trains come and leave quickly,
And soot and smoke quietly rock the wayIn wealthy houses the radio is loudly playing concertsThere are more losers now than before,
And present-day joyful music as well.
And green parrots still draw out from envelopes
By katarinkes --- the blue good fortune.
Fear and angst await at every door,
Not only at Reb Gedalya's are the shutters banged shut,
It happens that in the morning, night lurks hereOh you great poet from afar
Forgive my depressed words.
My suffering heart that never did exist
Believes miracles will yet happen!
by Yakov Brukhanski (Jack Bruks)
Translated by Pamela Russ
As a young school boy, Shepsel already showed a talent for painting and carving. Not once did his Rebbe in school twist his ears for this. Later, though, his pictures decorated the walls in some of the classes of the Powszechner school in Serock.
At ten years old, Shepsel already had the taste of being an orphan, along with his older sister and two younger brothers. Hardship forced him to give up learning and painting, and he apprenticed for three years with a wood carver.
These new responsibilities and the disappointment of not being able to pursue his artistic talent, moved him early towards the ranks of the socialist movement. He read many books in the library of the Education League, where his portraits still hang of the classic writers of Yiddish literature and theoreticians of socialism.
The local police, after visiting the Education League, looked for all traces of the painter. Shepsel left Serock and went to Warsaw. In his new home, he didn't look at his difficult economic situation; he helped his newly-arrived friends from Serock find work, and so on.
At the outbreak of World War Two, he lived in Legionowa (near Warsaw). The Nazis sent him with his wife and young daughter, along with all the Jews there, to their final destruction.
by Yosef Fajnboim
Translated by Pamela Russ
He was born into a Khassidic family in 1902 (or 1903). From his youngest years, he helps his parents with their work. Their work in the oil factory is very difficult. This is a very primitive oil workshop. Farmers from the surrounding areas used to bring the rapeseed and for a certain price the Kuzhinski family would squeeze out the oil. The young Yakov (Yantche) with his young and feeble strength helps provide oil to the farmers.
When Yantche is 12 years old, he takes on the apprenticeship of a spats maker. After a few years of hard work, he becomes a self-sufficient wage earner, an associate of the boss (a journeyman) for a pitiful wage. (In those times, they would work 12 or 14 hours a day.) The young associate Yantche begins to feel the taste of a proletariat on his own shoulders, and becomes interested in literature especially socialist literature. Very soon, he becomes politically and culturally educated, and throws himself with great enthusiasm into political activity. Yantche becomes one of the most idealistic young men of that time.
Soon, illegal revolutionary organizations begin to form, and Yantche is very active and dedicated to them. He has no fear, nothing is impossible he becomes the real fighter in Serock.
In the year 1923, there are political arrests in Serock, and a line of socialists from the movement are arrested, including Hershel Mendzelewski. Other activists try to avoid the arrest by running away from the town or by hiding from the police. Yantche, being the technical person behind all the written literature, does not leave. He is responsible for the literary magazine, which is for him a holy cause. He doesn't want to leave his corner of his father's workshop where the literature is hidden, and when the police come to do a search and find after a lengthy search the illegal magazines and literature, Yantche is arrested. The sentence is severe: the methods that
the Polish police used at that time with Jewish political arrests were very brutal and murderous. For five days they tortured him and tried to force him to give over the names of the rest of his colleagues in the organization. They knew that Yantche was the key to the illegal movement
Caption: Yakov (Yantche) Kuzhinski, of blessed memory, in Otwock
and they demanded information from him about his contacts and connections to the District Center, with the higher ups.
But Yantche, with his honest and determined character, did not release even one word. Beaten and bloodied, he was silent and with that showed his strength and his belief in what he thought was the right thing.
Yantche was brought before a judge and was sentenced to a few years in prison. They couldn't break his spirit, but they broke him physically. Yantche became very sick in his lungs, and in general, the beatings took their toll on his health. After he completed his sentence, Yantche was a physically broken man, but remained with his spirit intact. His activities remained exactly as before, and his belief did not yield: He sustained the typical Jewish sacrifice for the holy cause that is so characteristic for many Jewish heroes in the history of martyrdom of the Jewish people.
After suffering for three years, Yantche died at the age of 26 (or 27). We organized a funeral as he deserved, and placed a memorial tombstone on his grave with writing in Yiddish. In those times, in Serock, these were called revolutionary acts.
Yantche's life and his death remained for the entire youth in Serock as a variety of colors and perspectives in their memories of a heroic figure.
May his memory be blessed!
Fonya ganefwas not an epithet reserved by Jews for the czar alone. It also was sometimes used by them to refer to Russia or to Russians in general, or at least to Russians regarded as unscrupulous goyim. (The fact that most Russians thought of Jews as cheats and thieves just as most Jews thought of Russians that way is ironic but hardly noteworthy; prejudiced majorities and minorities have often projected the same negative images onto one another.) Remarks like, Fonya ganef has gone to war against Japan, or, One should never do business with Fonya ganef, could be heard often among the Jews of Russia prior to World War I. Return
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