Our story begins in Dynów, a town in south-eastern Poland, near Sanok, Bircza, and Przemyśl, where the wife
of Szlomo Tepper (the son of Kalman Tepper), gave birth to three children: Jonas (Jojne) Tepper, Feige Tepper, and a younger son.
Feige married Meir Fisz, and had at least three children: Esther, Sara Tsirl/Tsurl, and Mendel. Esther married Salomon Leib (Shlomo Aryeh) Lischner from Tyrawa Woloska, near Sanok, and they had four sons in Dynów: Isak, Mechel (Mikhaʾel), Nachman (01 Apr 1901–23 May 1993), and Hersch Meilech (Tsvi Elimelekh). Isak (1896–1942) married Ita Knor and had Rachel and Yisrael. Mechel (1899–1942) married Schifera Landau (c. 1906 to 1908–1941) from Tyrawa Woloska and had a daughter, Lea (Lusha), in 1936. Hersch never married, but moved to Przemyśl. These three sons and their father all worked as merchants until the War, when they all perished, at the Bełżec concentration camp, in Tyrawa Woloska, or in Lviv, Ukraine. Nachman Z”L survived and moved to Israel with his wife Hadasah (Yudit) Hudis, where he passed away on 23 May 1993. Nachman had one daughter, Rivqah, who died of cancer in July 1998, but she is survived by her husband and children who live in Israel.
Mendel Fisz married Malka Elster and had four children: Icchak, Naftali, Peisach, and Feige, all of whom apparently perished in the Holocaust.
The brother of Jonas and Feige Tepper also married and had at least two sons: Shiye (or Shaye) Tepper, who married Malle Wöfling (related to our family through a maternal line) and David Tepper. Both brothers may have emigrated to the United States.
The other Tepper, Rabbi Jonas (a kōhen), and his wife, Matel (Molly) Gärtner, lived in Mrzygłód, a village near Sanok (where she was from), and had four children: Majer Israel (Meʾir Yisraʾel) Tepper, born 05 August 1874, Josephine (Pepi) Tapper (née Tepper), born in 1880, Clara (Klara Ḥayyah) Tapper (née Tepper), born in 1884, and Sadie (Sarah) Tapper (née Tepper)
Josephine Gartner (left) and Clara Tobias (right), unknown dates, born 15 May 1890. In 1902, the three daughters emigrated to New York City, albeit separately. For example, Josephine’s ship manifest indicates that she arrived in Québec City, Québec on 08 November 1902, aboard the RMS Lake Champlain that sailed from Liverpool on 28 October. Accompanying her as she entered the United States in St Albans, Vermont, was her daughter Frances (listed as ‘Fanny’), but not her husband, Sigmund Gartner (né Gärtner), who had arrived on the RMS Lake Ontario on 01 July 1902 and already lived in New York City (at 88 Willett Street, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, near the Williamsburg Bridge). Interestingly, Josephine wrote that her previous residence was in Wien (Vienna), indicating that she had moved from Mrzygłód some years earlier. Apparently, Majer followed his sisters to New York City, living there and working as a baker during two periods (1905–1907 and 1909–?), but returning to Europe before the First World War. Ship manifest records from the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, then one of the largest ships in the world, indicate that he sailed from Hamburg to New York City on 11 December 1909 and arriving nine days later on 20 December, listing his occupation as a ‘labourer’ and his destination as the home of his sister, Klara Tobias at 239 E 122nd St (near 2nd Avenue in Harlem) in Manhattan.
Josephine Gartner, unknown date
Josephine (Pepi) Tapper Gartner, the eldest of the three sisters, and her husband (who was also her first cousin) Sigmund Gartner, a mural painter, had a large family of six children. Josephine had immigrated with her eldest child (Frances), while pregnant with her second daughter, Elizabeth; over the next years, she gave birth to Sadye (Susan), Lillian, Irving, and Paul. Calamity struck the family twice: first, in 1922, when Sigmund died of lead poisoning that he caught from the paints he used, and again in 1935, when Paul committed suicide at the age of 21. After her children grew, Josephine remarried, to Samuel Abrams, and moved to Florida, where she died just a year later, on 13 March 1938.
Elizabeth married Robert Rosenthal and started a family in Brooklyn, giving birth to Marilyn and Marvin. Today, they live near the greater New York City metropolitan area, in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania. David Rose, the husband of Marilyn’s youngest daughter, Roberta, maintains the family genealogy for this branch of the family.
Tobias family with Samuel’s
brother, c 1910
Josephine’s middle sister Clara (Klara Ḥayyah) Tapper (née Tepper) had also married before emigrating from Poland, to Samuel Tobias, and they had two children, Harry and Rose. Clara passed on at the age of 85 on 21 Dec 1969, and her husband died at the age of 100 on 13 Nov 1977.
The third sister, Sadie (Sarah) Tapper (née Tepper), who was born 15 May 1890, eventually married Harry Goldsmith in New York City, however their marriage did not last and they had no children. Sadie lived alone for most of her life in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Tragically, she died alone in January 1967, but two weeks passed before her nephew, Irving Gartner, discovered her body after several unsuccessful attempts to reach her by telephone.
Majer Tepper, 1905–1910Although Majer emigrated to the United States with his sisters, he left his wife Szajndel Bierfass and their two oldest children, Mindl (Mina) and Blima, behind in Poland. While in the United States, he worked as a baker in New York City, but eventually gave up this life and returned to Europe shortly before the First World War. Shortly afterwards, his third daughter, Esther (Ewa) was born, followed later by the fourth and final child—this time a son—named Jakób. During the chaos of the War, Majer took his family to Koice, Slovakia, out of fear of the Russian army. He did fight in the war on the Austrian side, faring better than his future son-in-law, Dawid Löwenthal-Mond, who also fought as an Austrian soldier, but was captured (presumably while defending the fortress of Przemyśl), and taken to Siberia. It is assumed Dawid escaped back to Poland during the Russian Revolution.
Possibly before Majer and his sisters emigrated to the United States, they had moved with their father, Rabbi Jonas, to Nowa Wieś, a village near shtetl of Bircza, in south-eastern Poland. Jonas was a respected rabbi and the community offered him an important position. Unfortunately, once he arrived, for some reason the residents of Bircza reneged upon their offer, an issue that caused financial difficulties for Jonas, and may have been the reason that his children went to America. It was in the Bircza area, that Majer likely met his wife, Szajndel, as her father Dawid Bierfass had raised his family in Jawornik Ruski or Żohatyń, neighbouring villages in the area (conflicting recollections also place his family around Niżankowice, also near Bircza). Other Bierfass relatives, namely the Hamer and Turner families also lived in Żohatyń.
unknown dateSzajndel’s family consisted of several siblings. Regina married Aron Schnell and had five children in Leszczawa Dolna: a daughter born in 1896, Moti (born in 1906) and Szmuel, both of whom married before the War, Icyk Hersz, and Josef. Of the other sisters, one married a Freifeld from Żohatyń (near Bircza), and had a daughter named Feige (born c 1893), who emigrated to the United States in May 1911; the other sister married into the Hoch family and had a son, who survived the Holocaust, but was murdered by Poles shortly thereafter. When Feige Freifeld emigrated to the United States in 1911, she arrived together with a cousin, Gittel Hoch (born c 1895), the daughter of Moses Hoch, from Jawornik Ruski. However, it is uncertain whether Moses Hoch was Feige’s uncle, or perhaps another relative. In New York City, Feige established contact with the Tepper sisters, since Irving Gartner’s wife had a photograph of her that is displayed here, however, little is known about her. When Feige and Gittel arrived in New York City, they listed their destination as the home of their cousin, Sume (?) Turner, on Rivington St in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, confirming the family claim that Szajndel came from the ‘Bierfass, Hamer, and Turner houses’.
In 2010, we discovered that Szajndel had a younger brother named Meilech (Elimelech) Bierfass (born 01 Jan 1882), who married Etl Dyler (born in 1891, the daughter of Asher Lemel Dyler and brother of Tsvi Dyler, who survived the Holocaust). They had several children: Malia-Brendl (born 1913), Chana (born 1915), Markus, Zisl (born 1922), Shaindl (born 1925), and Shava or Sara (born 1927). Except for Markus, they all perished in July 1941 in Jawornik Ruski, where the Bierfass family had originated. Markus survived the Holocaust believing that his entire family had perished. He and his family immigrated to Israel, where he died in 2009—six months before our families discovered each other and before he could learn of the existence of his surviving first cousin in Sweden, Jakób Tepper.
Löwenthal family, late 1920s;
Mina, Dawid, Matilda, Jonas, SaraMajer’s four children remained in the Bircza area. Mindl (Mina) Tepper, the eldest, married Dawid Löwenthal-Mond; shortly after the birth of their eldest child, my grandfather Jonas Lewental (né Löwenthal) on 02 February 1922, who was named in memory of his great-grandfather Rabbi Jonas Tepper (who died shortly before his birth), they moved to Korzeniec, another of the Bircza satellite villages, where they lived on the main road between Bircza and Przemyśl and ran a tavern. My grandfather had four siblings: Sara (Salinka), Matilda (Mania), Bernard, and Gerszon. A fifth child named Sima had died in infancy of encephalitis.
Blima was the only other of Majer’s children to marry before the Second World War, however, she divorced her husband after a short while, due to his gambling addiction. Esther (Ewa), and Jakób, who were younger than their siblings by at least ten years, became active in the communist movement in their area, especially after Russia and Germany divided Poland (with Bircza falling under Soviet contrôl) in 1939. However, when Germany betrayed Russia and invaded during June 1941, Esther and her brother Jakób—knowing how the Nazis thought of communists—fled eastwards to Uzbekistan, where they survived the War. The Nazis, seeking Esther and Jakób, arrested their father, Majer, and tortured him to find out to where his children had fled, breaking his legs in the process. Further compounding this terrible tragedy was the simple fact that Majer had no knowledge of where Esther and Jakób were heading. The Nazis sent Majer to the Auschwitz death camp in Oswięcim, where his death was recorded on 31 May 1942.
Jonas Lewental, 1940;
one year before he fled
My grandfather’s parents encouraged him to flee eastwards, as well. In the two years of Soviet occupation, the Russians had coerced much of the young population to join the Communist Youth League (for example, by withholding employment opportunities from those not enrolled) and my grandfather, although he did not believe in the ideology, had joined the local organisation. Once his family learned that the Nazis were coming, his family—ironically, concerned not about his Jewish background, but his ties to the Communist Party—told him and his sister to run away. His father had thought about taking the whole family, but a friend discouraged him; it is unlikely that the whole family would have succeeded in fleeing, in any case.
On 24 June 1941, my grandfather said goodbye to his mother and siblings for what would turn out to be the last time with little more than a piece of bread and a few dollars in his pockets. For a few days, he ran by foot, avoiding the main roads and sleeping only for a few hours.
Dina Lewental, 1950s
On more than one occasion, he escaped from grave dangers. Eventually, as he made his way across Ukraine, he survived by jumping onto the rooftops of trains and holding onto the burning-hot steamstacks. Once deep in Ukraine, beyond the German invasion, my grandfather found work at a collective farm. However, the gradual German encroachment pushed him further and further into the Soviet Union and he ended up ultimately in the Ural Mountains of central Russia, thousands of kilometres from his birthplace. There, on 25 July 1945, he married my grandmother Dina Drozhanska, a Jewish refugee from the city of Vinnitsa in central Ukraine, and started a family of his own. To this day, the fate of his immediate family (save for his father, who died of a heart-attack in the Bircza area ghetto) is unknown.
Esther Oberländer, 1960s
My grandfather Jonas remained in Kamensk-Uralski, in the Ural Mountains, where he and Dina raised a family of four children: Klawa (Orah), Mania (Miri), Leon (Aryeh), and Luba (Ahuvah). Jonas sent numerous letters to government offices in Bircza and elsewhere in Poland, hoping to find out the fates of his siblings and parents. By miraculous coincidence, one of these letters ended up on the desk of a municipal office, where his aunt Esther happened to be present. Recognising her nephew’s name on the envelope, she established contact with my grandfather and aided him and his family to emigrate to Wałbrzych (Waldenburg), in western Poland.
Aside from Jonas, Esther and Jakób were the only relatives to survive the war, returning from Uzbekistan after the War ended. In Wałbrzych, Esther married a fellow survivor,
Jakób Tepper (left) and Artur Abraham Oberländer (right), 1960s
Artur Abraham Oberländer (né Oberlender) (from Drohobycz, Ukraine), and Jakób married a woman named Maria (Musia) Zigelmann. All four eventually moved to Malmö, Sweden in the early 1960s; Artur and Esther (Z”L) passed away in 1991 and 2002, respectively. Artur’s mother was Klara Rothstein, (his father’s name is not known), and he had an uncle, Isak Samuel Rothstein. Artur was the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust; indeed, his first wife and son were killed by Ukrainians, before he was inducted into the USSR Army, in which he served.
For fifty years, my grandfather searched for the descendents of three great-aunts who went to New York City in 1902. These three sisters had travelled with their brother (Majer Israel (Meʾir Yisraʾel) Tepper, his grandfather, who had later returned. All siblings hailed from the town Mrzygłód, a shtetl near Sanok, Poland, and they had a number of descendents once in the States.
To track these relatives, I made good use of available materials, such as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which can be found online for free. I decided to track Sadie Goldsmith, because my grandfather knew she was alive into the 1950s and perhaps later, for his aunt had been in contact with her then.
I found about eight Sadie Goldsmiths in the SSDI, and, looking at the dates, only two seemed as if they matched her approximate dates. On a hunch, I picked the one living from 1890 until 1968.
I sent away for the Social Security Application Form (SS-5), which includes vital statistics that the deceased invididual submitted when applying for a Social Security number. Upon receiving it, I knew it was her. Sadie had listed her father as ‘Jonas Tapper’ and her mother as ‘Molly Tapper’, very close to the names I have (she Americanised ‘Matel’ to ‘Molly’). Providing me with a more information, I probed further and requested her death certificate, trying to track down her beneficiaries, and see who survived her, for she listed herself as a widow.
In early January 1999, I received the death certificate in my mailbox. Quickly opening it, I saw she was ‘found dead’ by an ‘Irving Gartner’ on 17 Jan 1968. Just for luck, I searched Irving Gartner in the SSDI, and found one who died in 1988, Boca Raton, Florida.
At this point, I took a chance and looked at an online phone book to see if perhaps he was still alive, not convinced that he had died in Florida. I found a certain match: ‘Irving and Edith Gartner’ in Boca Raton, Florida. Certain that at least his wife must be alive, I made the call.
There really is no joy like finding family in this continually growing world. While many fear we are growing farther apart because of the impersonal nature of computers and Internet—for the most part, sadly true—these mechanisms can sometimes be used to bring us together. Indeed, the power contained by the Internet demonstrates itself in producing unbelievable results such as finding a massive, flourishing family that I had never known existed.
Ever since my grandfather fled his home on 22 Jun 1941, he has sought out missing relatives. He had limited success: regaining contact with his aunt and her brother in 1958. But the relatives here in the United States that had sent him food and presents when he was a kid captured his imagination. ‘We had their picture on our wall—always’, he recalls. These names—Gärtner, Goldsmith, Tobias, and Rosenthal—have been included in our family trees for years, even though we never knew where they belonged, nor even if he and his aunt recalled them correctly. Finding them, and making this contact, has been one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life, and something that has really brought my grandfather new happiness in his life.
My family is grateful for this great accomplishment—especially to the individual genealogists and to JewishGen—for the help I received. Likewise, I appreciate all help I receive in my other searches (my grandmother’s relatives in Russia and the US, my grandfather’s ancestors in Poland), and I offer my help—whatever I can do—to others in an effort to help them replant their roots.
- origins in dynów and sanok, poland
- three tepper sisters
- majer tepper and his family
- jonas lewental’s survival
- life after the war
- discovery of the nyc relatives
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