Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date marks the anniversary on the Jewish calendar of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, but of course it represents so much more. The Holocaust directly impacted my family in ways that I know and do not know.

My mother’s mother’s brother, Chaim Weisskopf, lived in Germany with his wife and 3 children in the early 1940s. They knew they were in danger and wanted to at least get the children out of the country. They were in touch with the French Hidden Jewish Children program, but that program only accepted children in a narrow age range. The oldest son was too old, the daughter was too young. They accepted the middle child, Werner Weisskopf, and they managed to get him to America in 1942, where he was raised by my mother’s parents as a son. As far as we know, the rest of the family was killed.

My father’s father’s family, Sepersky, was from Kletsk in modern Belarus. They left around 1900. The Jewish population of Kletsk was killed in the early 1940s by the Nazis. This page lists several people named Sepersky who were killed at that time. Perhaps they were cousins?

Name
Year of Birth
Place of Residence 
Source
Fate based on this source
Ceperski,Aron Kleck, Poland‎ Page of Testimony Murdered
Tzeperski,Aron Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Tzeperski,Leyba Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Tzeperski,Avsey 1910 Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Tzeperski,Yesel 1902 Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Ceperski,Yehoshua Kleck, Poland‎ Page of Testimony Murdered
Ceperski,Ester Kleck, Poland‎ Page of Testimony Murdered

I know that the Holocaust affected my other ancestral towns of Pultusk, Poland, and Brody, Ukraine, possibly killing other unknown cousins. It’s difficult to research any town in Eastern Europe without encountering a phrase like, “most of the Jewish community was wiped out by the Nazis in the 1940s”. So, while today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am forced to remember it most days I research my family. This is the least appealing aspect of my genealogical journey.

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April 15

In 1890, my paternal grandfather’s brother, Isadore (Israel) Sepersky, was born in Kletsk, then a part of Russia, now in Belarus. In 1900, he came to America with his father. He married Laura Slawitsky in 1912, and they had 3 children, one of whom is still living. Sometime in the 1920s, he changed the family’s last name to Spear.

Belorussian Genealogy

Last night, I attended a talk by Yuri Dorn of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus. He spoke primarily about 19th century Jewish history in Belarus and methods of doing genealogical research, exactly what I was hoping to learn about, as my father’s father’s family was from Kletsk, a shtetl near Minsk, Belarus.

A couple of the nuggets of information that I got from the history related to the names and the military service. Jews did not have last names, traditionally, referring to people by their first names and then “son of” or “daughter of” their father. In 1798, the Russian government (the area was part of the Russian Empire at the time) decreed that all people should have last names, so they could track them better for census and tax purposes. I expect that the Sepersky (Tseperskij) name was created at that time, probably based on the Tsepra region, near Kletsk, though I have no documentation to support that.

Throughout the 1800s, Jewish boys were required to serve in the military, at time as young as age 12 and as long as 25 years. Over time, the laws changed, to be age 19 and only 3 years, but this was still highly disruptive to Jewish life. One of my grandfather’s brothers claimed that the family moved to America to keep him from having to serve in the military. That was one of the big incentives for Jewish emigration from Russia in the 19th century.

The two main difficulties in researching my ancestors from that area are that the records are not complete, many having been damaged or destroyed over the years, and that they are not easily accessible. Very few of them are online. The best ways to do this research are to make requests to the Belorussian officials, hire private genealogists from the area, or to travel to Belarus and hire a translator and do it yourself. None of these options are easy or inexpensive.

I don’t have any current plans to travel to Minsk. For now, I’ll probably just hold out hope that Belarus becomes more open with their history and allows more of their information to be digitized.

April 10

In 1914, Alexander Sepersky was born. My Uncle Al was my father’s brother. Like the other Sepersky American-born children, he changed his name to Alexander Spear. In 1940, he married Josephine McCausland, and they had 5 sons together, 4 of whom are still living. He worked in Philadelphia, running a grocery store attached to his house, until he retired and moved to Ocean City, New Jersey. He died in 1993 at the age of 79.

April 8

In 1943, Armand Robinson enlisted in the military at the age of 19. He was my father’s cousin on his father’s side, the son of Rose Robinson nee Sepersky He served in the United States Army, 17th Airborne, 193rd Glider Infantry in the Ardennes. He was awarded a bronze star with oak leaf cluster at the Battle of the Bulge.

Jewish seller of magazines and books in shtetl Kletzk – 1920’s

Perusing the blog for the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus, I found this wonderful picture in this blog post from the shtetl that the Sepersky family came from. They left Kletsk in 1900 and this picture is from the 1920s, but he could be a relative, left behind. Even if not, it helps capture the atmosphere of Kletsk at that time.