My 84-year-old father, Robert Kash, received a phone call from a woman who introduced herself as a cousin, with the same great grandfather. She said she was working on a Family Tree from a website called www.Jewishgen.org. About seven weeks ago she emailed me the Family Tree and shared the newfound cousins she contacted, including one from Israel. My newfound cousin, who deserves all the credit for her arduous, detective-like work in tracking down the family, is Toni Dee; we just met for the first time and shared a warm, long overdue hug.
For more than 30 years, first on a USY teen tour to Israel in 1979 and then as a Lone Soldier [the designation for those serving with no direct family in Israel] in the IDF between 1984-1986, I have been looking for any remnant of family from the Holocaust. My grandfather was one of 13 brothers and sisters, but only three survived, along with his elderly parents who made it to the United States from Poland well before the war.
Recently, based on information from the Family Tree that Toni provided, I called a newly discovered cousin in Tel Aviv. He was surprised that I spoke Hebrew and I explained that I served in the IDF more than 25 years ago. I started to cry, realizing that I had not really been a Lonely Soldier and had family in Israel; I just didn’t know it back then.
Shimon, the new Tel Aviv cousin, and I share the same great great grandfather (Chaim Shlomo Krzywanowski). After telling him I can’t believe I have a cousin in Israel he said “you don’t have one cousin but with my children and grandchildren and my sister’s side of the family you have 21 cousins – actually many more than that.”
He explained that my great grandfather Jacob had a brother David and two of his children escaped Poland. Today that side of my family has grown to another 26 cousins. I now have 47 cousins that I never knew existed 24 hours earlier.
I went to call one of the cousins named Yoav who is the same age as me. He too was looking for any survivors from the original family for three decades with no luck. What is amazing is that besides having kids the same age, we were in the army at the same time and never knew it. Then he found out that I was an author as well and that he had read one of one my books in Hebrew two years earlier and enjoyed it, never knowing the author was a descendant of his great great grandfather as well.
Just as I planned to submit this article, I discovered lineage from another sibling of my great grandfather Jacob. His brother, Michael, who perished along with all the brothers and sisters who remained in Poland, had a son, Hersh Zvi, who made it to Israel, and I spoke with his son Shmulik for the first time. He is also the same age as me and works for a company that I do business with in Israel. Over the last decade we had to pass each other in the hallways of his office. We have all shared photos of our children and the resemblances, even five generations later, are uncanny.
I have also found cousins living in the same county as me and never knew it even, though we have shared friends. This experience has brought to life the black and white pictures I use to stare at as a teenager of the Old Country.
Surely hundreds of our relatives perished in the Shoah.
The new family members plan to connect later this year in Israel during the celebration of my 50th birthday and 50th visit to Israel; it will be a reconnection of a generation of cousins that will meet for the first time in four generations. I will meet descendants of all five of my great grandfather’s siblings; I now I have over 60 cousins in Israel that I didn’t know existed until a few weeks ago.
I guess that along with the adage “Never Again,” we can add: “Never Give Up.”
Peter Kash is a biotech venture capitalist and author; he has visited Auschwitz, Dachau and the Warsaw Ghetto. Recently he completed his doctorate studies and submitted his thesis at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University.