Thursday, July 1, 2010
After finishing up his final seminar at the medical school in Sarajevo, my husband and I took off on an extended car trip that ranged from Dubrovnik, Croatia, through Slovenia, northern Italy, southern France and the Alsace region, and Switzerland. We had some wonderful experiences along the way and will be sharing those – in no particular order.
One of the highpoints was a visit to the Pierre Sparr Winery located in the town of Sigolsheim, France in the Alsace region. Pierre Sparr wines are well-known and respected around the world. We have found them in local wine shops and on the wine lists of nicer restaurants. Intrigued that we shared the same last name, we always harbored the hope that we could be related to these famous Sparr’s, so we planned a visit to the winery as part of our car trip. We booked a hotel in the nearby town of Riquewihr, and as we drove through town on our way to Sigolsheim we noticed a wine cellar named 'Charles Sparr'. Hmmm.
We went on to Sigolsheim - about 5 km from Riquewihr - and easily found the Pierre Sparr wine cellar. The woman in the tasting room knew some English and she told us that the Pierre Sparr winery had been sold just over a year ago to some sort of conglomerate. The winery had been in the family since 1680! Nearly 330 years. She also told us that one of the Sparr brothers, the current Pierre (the 10th generation) had set up a new winery in the area of Riquewihr. We stopped at the Charles Sparr winery on the way back, walked in, and there was Pierre Sparr and his son, Charles.
Pierre and Charles were wonderful, greeting us like family members. Pierre said he was heartbroken over the breakup of the family business, but as part of the deal, he kept the original family vineyards, and is starting a new business, growing the grapes and making wines himself, but bottling thousands instead of millions of bottles of wine. Since the ‘Pierre Sparr’ name belongs to the business that was sold, he named the new winery after his son, Charles. At 22 years of age, Charles is interested in learning about the marketing aspects of the wine business and has already visited wineries in Oregon and will spend time in California in coming months.
Pierre invited us to come to dinner. They had planned a wine makers’ dinner with Alsatian foods paired with Charles Sparr wines. We happily accepted his invitation. At the dinner, we were seated at a special table, and Pierre and his father, Charles joined us for dinner.
Charles, Senior, (86 years old) was a treasure house of information on his family’s history. He seemed to think that we must be related, however distantly. He told us the family was traced to Vikings who came from Sweden to Germany in 1220, then moved on to Switzerland in 1580 and finally arrived in Alsace in 1625 and established the family winery in 1680. He believes that Sparr descendants – even with different spellings of the name - are all part of the family in some way.
My husband’s grandfather was named Charles Sparr and his great-grandfather was August Sparr. Interestingly, both the given names Charles and August also appear frequently in the Alsace branch of the Sparr family. So far, I’ve only been able to trace August Sparr and his family to the area around Mecklenburg, Germany.
Whether my husband can trace his roots back to a common ancestor of Pierre’s or not, we were treated like family and had a wonderful evening in the company of Charles, Pierre and Charles Sparr.
(photo: Charles, Jr., Pierre, Landy, Charles, Sr. )
Thursday, June 3, 2010
After my journeys into the Polish countryside, I returned to Warsaw for a few days. I wanted to see Poland’s largest city and take in some of the museums and culture. But first there was more research on my family background and a visit to make.
I had learned that my great-great-grandparents on my mother’s side were Anna (Gradecki) Gradus and Jacob Gradus. Anna was born in Jankowo, in 1858. I had tried to find the town of Jankowo on my train trip to the countryside but only found a deserted train station, a dirt road and a possible glimpse of what might have been the town in the distance. When I looked for the Gradus surname in Poland, I found the name in only one place, the Jewish records of Warsaw. A very surprising development.
As far as anyone in the family knew, all our Polish relatives were Catholic. There is no way to tell when or why Jacob changed his faith – or perhaps just stopped practicing his faith. His wife, Anna, was Catholic. Did he adopt her faith for love? It’s even possible that she was not aware of her husband’s background. Maybe he was tired of persecution and left his Jewish identity behind when he left Warsaw. At that time in Poland there was both personal discrimination towards Jews and there were also special taxes assessed against Jewish businesses.
I found a record of a Jakub Icek Gradus, born in 1863 in Warsaw on the Jewish Records Index. His parents were listed as Yosef Tzvi (Hersz) and Sara Golda Gradus. He had a brother, Benjamin and a sister, Bajla Ryfka. When I contacted the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw I found they had burial records for Yosef Tzvi (Yosef Herz), died 1868, and Sara Golda Gradus, wife of Yosef Tzvi, died 1882. The section, row and plot were detailed for each of them.
My first stop in Warsaw was the Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery is surrounded by a brick wall, portions of which date from the Jewish Ghetto. Prior to this time, there was a Jewish quarter, but it was not walled off from the rest of the city. Because there were so few Polish Jews left in Warsaw after WWII, the cemetery was virtually abandoned for 45 years. For the past 15 years Przemsslaw Yisroel Szpilman has been the cemetery’s director and has been locating and recording the graves in the cemetery. It has been difficult work. Trees, weeds and shrubs sprouted in the untended area; gravestones crumbled or broke apart; some stones were vandalized. So far, he has found and recorded information and the locations of 85,000 graves. There are still many graves to be found and recorded.
When I arrived with the documents on my ancestors, Mr. Szpilman offered to take me to the graves himself. First we found the grave for who I believe is my g-g-g grandfather, Yosef Tzvi. It is fortunate that Mr. Szpilman was with me because the stone was in Yiddish, a language I don’t know. We found the grave for my g-g-g grandmother, Sara Golda Gradus in another section. Mr. Szpilman told me that at that time, Orthodox Jews didn’t allow men and women to be buried in the same areas of cemeteries; there was a men’s section and a women’s section. He also told me that he was nearly certain his own grandfather was buried in the cemetery, but he had not yet discovered his grave.
It was very moving to be at the graves of my ancestors; ancestors I had not even guessed at. I thanked them for coming before me; I hoped they would be proud of their descendents. I don’t know if any members of the Gradus family still living in Poland survived the Holocaust. It’s possible that the only members of the Gradus family still surviving are all in countries outside Poland. I felt like I had found people who had been lost – with many thanks to Mr. Spzilman for finding them first.
After the cemetery I visited monuments to the Jewish Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Uprising, a monument commemorating the location of the railroad siding where Jews and others were loaded on cattle cars for the trip to Auschwitz, and a monument to the many war dead of all cultures. So much suffering. It was a sobering day.
Friday, May 21, 2010
The city of Poznan was the first capital of the emerging Polish state in the 10th century and it is second only to Warsaw as a financial center of the modern Polish state.
Many of my Polish ancestors reported that they came from Posen. That could have meant the city of Poznan, or it could have referred to the area around Poznan. Once again, I was in search of the oldest areas of the city; parts of the city my ancestors might have visited or might have even lived.
The heart of the old city is Old Market Square. The city's Town Hall is on the square and it is surrounded by colorfully painted townhouses. Once the residences of the city’s elite, most of the ground floors are now banks, cafés and shops with upper floors divided into apartments. The Town Hall is considered to be one of Europe’s finest municipal buildings (according to my guidebook), designed by an Italian architect and built between 1550-60. The square is very large and mostly open with the perimeters filled with café tables under colorful umbrellas.
It is said that 1,000 years ago, St Adalbert gave a sermon at the top of a hill in Poznan before he started on his campaign to evangelize the Prussians. Now called St. Adalbert’s hill, it is crowned by two Catholic churches. The small Gothic-styled Church of St. Adalbert faces the Church of St. Joseph across a small plaza. Both churches date to the 1600’s.
Adjoining the Church of St. Joseph was a walled cemetery. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack, but I walked through the cemetery hoping to find some family names. I didn’t find any, but I did find the graves of two people with the surname of Roche, my uncle’s name. The inscriptions were in German, not Polish. My aunt tells me that the name Roche is Irish. We have no idea how it was that two Irishmen speaking German were buried in an old cemetery in Poland.
I didn’t find any evidence of any of my family members in Poznan, but I was able to experience parts of the city. Some of them might have lived in Poznan, maybe they lived in nearby towns and might have visited the bigger city. But I enjoyed visiting Poznan. It’s an attractive and prosperous city and a very pleasant place to sit at a café table and watch the bustle of city life.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
If you can pronounce the name of this city, I'll give you a dollar.
Day 2 of my foray into the Polish countryside. But first I had to make the five hour train trip from Gdansk back to the area I wanted to be in, near Poznan. The front desk made a train reservation for the earliest train I could get to Inowroclaw, another small town not far from Jankowo.
Inowroclaw was an actual town with paved streets and buildings. What a relief. It’s large enough to get a brief mention in my guidebook; they call it a health resort.
I saw no evidence of it’s renown as a health resort, but I was looking for very different things. I wanted to find what looked like the oldest parts of town. My great-grandmother, Victoria Lugowski, and both her parents (my g-great grandparents) were from Inowroclaw. I hoped to wander the oldest streets, hoping that one of them could have been their neighborhood; seeing the things that they might have seen even in the late-1800’s before they set sail for the New World.
The oldest Catholic church in Inowroclaw, and it’s most historic building, is the Church of Our Lady, dating from the turn of the 13th century. You are allowed to enter through the massively heavy doors, but only as far as the small entry area. Access to the church is closed by a heavy metal gate. The lights are left on, however, so visitors can still appreciate it’s rough, plain beauty. I’ll never know if the Lugowski family ever knelt in this church, but it was here when they lived here and I’m certain they would have known about it.
Directly across a large plaza is a newer, much larger and far more ornamented church. No doubt built by the devoted parishioners when the historic church became too small for the congregation. This newer church was lavished with the gilt, ornamentation, devotional paintings and statuary missing in the early church.
As I walked around admiring the interior I couldn’t help but notice that it was in constant use by what seemed to be local people. They would stop in, say a prayer, then leave. Some stayed just a minute or two, others stayed longer. I would have to call most of them middle-aged women, but there were a few men, too, as well as a couple of young people. I saw the same thing at other churches I visited in Poland during my trip. I was impressed that their churches were so much a part of their everyday lives.
Time to move on to Poznan. As I left Inowroclaw, there were two old buildings along the railroad tracks next to the large train station. I wondered if one of these could have been the old train station and if the Lugowski family might have started their journey to America from this spot. Pure speculation.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
I set off the first day from Warsaw to Jankowo, Poland. My great-great-great-grandmother had reported her birthplace as Jankowo on the ship registry documents. I planned to walk around, take a lot of pictures and hoped I might find the cemetery and possibly the graves of some of my ancestors or other extended family members.
When I looked back toward the train station I saw a woman standing near what served as the platform. Realizing that she must know the train schedule, I decided I would have to abandon visiting Jankowo. The train arrived no more than 10 minutes later; I boarded to return to the small city that was one stop away, Gdniesno.
There was still plenty of daylight so I took advantage of it and walked around Gdiesno. Maybe my ggg-grandmother came to this “big city” with her family for shopping excursions or for special religious services in one of the old and richly decorated churches
As the light started to fade, I decided I better get in a taxi and find my hotel. I had used Hotels.com to book a room in a hotel that seemed to be in a nearby town. The name of the hotel and the town were printed out on my itinerary. I showed it to the taxi driver and he seemed very confused. He pointed to the ground and said what I took to be “Gdniesno”. Yes, I nodded, this is Gdniesno, but I pointed to the paper again and indicated that this was the address I wanted to go to. We went through this round of pantomime at least three times, before the driver finally shrugged and nodded, indicating that he would take me there if that was what I wanted. I handed him some paper and a pen and asked “How much?” He wrote 2,100 Zl (Polish Zloty), or about $700! What?
What to do now? The hotel room in Gdansk was guaranteed; it was far too late to cancel and get a refund. And what little I’d seen of Gdniesno made me doubt that there would be much on offer in the way of a good hotel. As a woman traveling alone, I didn’t want to be in a sketchy hotel in a sketchy neighborhood.
So it was back to the train station, but first I had to engage in another pantomime for “train station”. I’m embarrassed at the thought, but I even resorted at one point to making “choo-choo” sounds, but this apparently doesn’t translate in Polish. I finally went back to the pad of paper and pen and drew some railroad tracks. Yes, understanding at last.
I bought a ticket to Gdansk but when I sat down in the lobby and looked at it, it seemed to be dated for the next day. I went back to the ticket booth, and, again, in a combination of pantomime and a few words of English she understood, I asked if the train left today? Yes, she assured me and pointed to the date at the left side of the ticket. I later figured out that the date on the right side meant I was arriving after midnight – Gdansk was 5 hours away by train. No wonder the taxi driver thought I was crazy.
I was one bedraggled traveler when I finally got to the hotel. Amazingly, there was someone there to check me in, and even more amazingly, a young man all got up in full bellhop livery appeared to carry my bags to my room.
This had been my first full day in Poland, full of frustration, mix-ups and misadventure. I hoped that this would not set the pattern for what followed.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Once I knew that Landy and I were headed for Sarajevo for nearly six months, I started to do some family research in earnest. I’d been meaning to search out some family origins for some time, but never actually got to it. Now, since I was going to be in central/eastern Europe, it was time to get started on locating the origins of my Polish ancestors.
My mother was the 3rd generation of Polish immigrants living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I knew one great-grandmother, the mother of my mother’s mother. She died when I was in my early teens. But I didn’t know anything about my mom’s family on her father’s side of the family – other than they were all Polish, too. Once I started doing some online searching, I quickly found the names of all my great grandparents and great-great-grandparents. My Polish ancestors all arrived in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and they nearly all came from the area of Posen.
The situation of the Polish people became much more difficult after the Napoleonic wars. Taking the side of the French, Poland was claimed by Prussia. The Polish language was suppressed in schools and in government, the Polish nobility was pressured to sell their ancestral lands to Germans, the assets of Catholic monasteries were seized, and non-Polish colonization was encouraged. In 1848, the Parliament of Poznan (capital of the Province of Posen) voted 26 – 17 against joining the newly formed German Empire, but the vote was ignored and the Province of Posen became part of Germany. The heavily Protestant German government increased efforts to “Germanize” Posen and in 1871 enacted a series of laws curtailing the power and influence of the Polish Catholic church. At the height of these efforts, up to half of Catholic bishops were arrested or had fled in exile; 25% of Polish parishes had no priest and one third of monasteries and convents had been closed. Facing both secular and religious discrimination, it’s no wonder that there was a huge wave of emigration from Poland in the mid- to late-1800’s.
On ship records and US census reports, my ancestors usually just listed Posen as their home. That could mean the Province of Posen, or it’s capital, the city now known as Poznan. But a ggg-grandmother reported coming from Jankowo and another ancestor came from Inowroclaw, small towns in the Posen area. A third I learned had likely come from Warsaw.
The link to any living ancestors is long broken. I didn’t hope to find any long-lost cousins; I just hoped I might walk some of the same streets or see some of the same sights. So I booked a series of train trips from Warsaw and back again and set off for Poland to see what I could see and find.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
In mid April I flew back to Wisconsin for what should have been a 5 day visit with my Dad and sister and other family members. The occasion was my father’s 90th birthday. My father is in very good health overall; he has lost some significant portion of his eyesight to macular degeneration and has been troubled by increasing pain due to arthritis in his knees and spine, but he and his wife live without aid in their own apartment and still are active in their neighborhood senior center, playing cards, darts and shuffleboard.
The party was supposed to be a surprise, but I know he was suspicious that something was up. He had guessed that we had planned to have a small party with my sister and I and maybe one or two couples they were friendly with at the Senior Center. Instead, he walked in to see a roomful of 40 people. Two grandchildren and their families (including his two great-grandchildren) had flown in from Virginia and Mississippi and another old friend and his wife had flown in from their winter home in Arizona. There were a lot of family members and a large group of their friends. It was a wonderful group of people and a wonderful party.
The birthday party was April 16, the day after the Icelandic volcano blew up and shut down European airports. Originally set to return to Sarajevo on April 18, Lufthansa wouldn’t reschedule me until my flight was officially cancelled. By the time I could reschedule, the earliest flight I could get was April 23.
My sister works for a hotel, so I was getting a very attractive room rate, but I didn’t want to keep running up my bill, so I moved into the spare room in my dad’s apartment. I had my laptop with me so I could finish work on the May issue of my publication, the Oak Hills Oracle, but I didn’t have the right cable to hook up to the internet connection they had. To check my email and do any online research, I had to use my dad’s 10 year old Gateway computer. It was only possible to endure if I had plenty of reading material on hand while I waited - and waited - for the little ball to stop spinning.
I was far more fortunate than many other stranded travelers, some of whom were stuck in airports, or in strange cities where they just had to watch their hotel bills increasing. It was a blessing to have the extra time with my father and I could help them out with some chores. I did the vacuuming, I moved some large potted plants, and I cleaned up their small patio and the chairs so they can enjoy the spring sunshine.
My return to Sarajevo was just in time. I unpacked, then repacked. I was off for a trip to Poland on April 25.