19 October 2007

Hunting for history

When author Daniel Mendelsohn spoke in Forest Hills, Queens about his book and the search for people from Bolechov, Ukraine, three people raised their hands to recount their ties to the town, according to a story in the New York Times Ledger.

Professor of humanities at Bard College, his book "The Lost" won the 2006 National Book Critics' Circle Award, the National Jewish Book Award and the American Library Association Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Jewish Literature.

When his grandfather died, the family's silence finally began to make sense, said Mendolsohn. Opening the ostrich skin wallet his grandfather had always carried in his breast pocket, he found "a whole series of letters written in German from Shmiel in 1939 begging for help" to escape from the growing threat from the advancing German army. Mendelsohn said it must have been a tremendous sense of guilt at his inability to save his brother and his brother's family that kept his garrulous grandfather quiet for decades.

He struck up a friendship online with a man in Ukraine who specialized in finding genealogy documents and records for Jews , Mendelsohn said. A year passed with no word, and then one day a box arrived at Mendelsohn's Upper West Side address, bearing "120 records of my family going back to 1724. Not only were they living in the same town for 150 years, they were in the same house," he said.

Read the complete story here.

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