Most people don’t write books, they carry their memories with them. Endless information gathered over a lifetime, which lives and dies with the people. A family story is one passed from father to son, from mother to daughter, for generations, each generation adding to the story. It is the collective memory of experiences, life achievements, challenges and hardships that our ancestors passed on to us, which dictates so much of who we are and is the starting point for each of us. But what happens when a whole generation stops passing on the story? What happens to the identity of a nation which has lost touch with its past?
This is what happened to the Jews of Poland, the largest Jewish community in Europe prior to WWII, beginning with mass migrations in the early 20th century and leading up to another wave of migration of those left after the tragedies of Holocaust. The Jewish immigrants left behind not only their towns and belongings but also their languages, memories and identities, which were formed over hundreds of years. The family stories many times stopped with them or was heavily edited to fit a new narrative necessary for their new lives. They were to begin a new story of their own. Only with time, we understand how little we knew and understood the people closest to us — our parents and grandparents.
We at the Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center at the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw see ourselves as a bridge between the two worlds. For over twenty years, we have been assisting families from all over the world to discover their roots in Poland and offer a new point of view about the family story. We consult and accompany families in their research. More than anything, we see in front of us the people – those who we work with and those who turn up during our research. More than we are interested in one document or another, we are interested in the people behind them. This is evident also in the way we work with the guests who come to our office – over 2500 of them yearly. Every meeting is a conversation, every anecdote is a clue, every piece of information is invaluable in putting together and bringing back to life the family story, and most importantly, it all happens in the same place where it was left decades ago.
We invite you to visit us at the Jewish Historical Institute at the famous Tłomackie Street in Warsaw and share your story.