I have been trying to locate my great grandfather who I never met because he died during the Holocaust, apparently in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland. When he was alive, he sired his family and earned his livelihood in Galicia, which was tossed between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland (and contested between Poland and Ruthenia since the Medieval times and in the 20th century between Poland and Ukraine). I haven’t been able to find much about him or the rest of the family on my mother’s side and even a visit to Auschwitz last spring did not turn up anything about their fates.

But I do have this photograph, apparently taken circa 1908 or thereabouts before or after my grandmother (left) sailed to New York with one of her sisters (right). Sadly, I don’t even know her sister’s name. My great grandfather, Shmuel (center), brought his daughters to the new world, then returned to Europe hoping to bring the rest of the family. Upon his return his wife (my great grandmother) took ill; he remained in Poland to care for her and his other children (how many I do not know) and was caught up in the chaos of the Great War. Unable to emigrate even after the armistice, his fate remained a mystery until my grandmother received a postcard after World War II saying he was eventually rounded up and placed in the ghetto and presumably killed.

This sepia photograph, typical of the turn-of-the-century portraiture, is the only link I have to him. It was the only memory my grandmother had of him. There are thousands of such photos that document families that were lost or destroyed. Whenever I look at it, I am grateful that the camera was invented in their lifetime. As unreal as the image seems today, it captured a reality (and a curious family resemblance) that otherwise would have disappeared.

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