Contest: Tell Us About Your Family’s Journey, Win a Great Memoir

Contest: Tell Us About Your Family’s Journey, Win a Great Memoir

Besides changing their names, one of the greatest banes of family historians is that ancestors move around–and aren’t always considerate enough to leave accurate records of their new addresses.

They move for a variety reasons–some to strike out and start a better life, others, like many of my relatives, to flee imminent danger.

I’m often amazed at how little I knew about my family’s places of refuge from Europe before I started blogging about my mother’s kin, the Kornmehls. I’d heard of the Jewish escapes to Shanghai, but had no idea any  of my relatives were part of that community.

And Curaçao? I didn’t know that any Jews, much less a cousin, spent the war years on this Caribbean island, but it turns out that Manfred Wolf had that experience when he was a boy.

And wrote a wonderfully moving memoir about it.

I was pleased to be able to post excerpts of it on this site; see Survival in Paradise: Southern France and Survival in Paradise: Curaçao.

Left to right: Anna Kornmehl and her husband Isaac Feigenbaum; Rita Jeret, with her hand on the shoulder of the narrator, Manfred Wolf, and her husband Itscho Kornmehl; Bertha Kornmehl [narrator's mother] and her husband Moses (Max) Wolf behind Manfred's older brother Siegfried; Melitta Heuschover and her husband Paul Kornmehl.

And now I’m happy to announce that the book, Survival in Paradise: Sketches from a Refugee Life in Curaçao is out, and available on Amazon.

Contest, Contest!

It’s also available here–a signed version, even!–to one lucky winner of Freud Butcher’s first contest.

Survival in ParadiseEntering is easy. All you have to do is post in the comments section about the longest or most interesting journey members of your family took in the past.  It can be one sentence. Or you can use this as an opportunity to share something you’ve discovered, at whatever length you like. And no, you don’t have to be Jewish or have Jewish family members to enter.  All family history stories are welcome, and all give you a chance to win a copy of Survival in Paradise.

You can even enter more than once–after all, every family has two sides–as long as you tell a different story in each comment.

Even my relatives can enter. They deserve a chance to win a book by a family member too.

I’ll number the comments as they are sent to me, and the winner will be selected at random.

That’s it. The contest starts at midnight, August 17th and ends at midnight August 24th.

I’m looking forward to learning where your family has been.



22 Responses to Contest: Tell Us About Your Family’s Journey, Win a Great Memoir

  1. Leo says:

    #1. Many of my family emigrated to either Australia or Canada, from Holland. One of my great-granduncles followed the most unusual trail. He was enlisted into the Dutch Army right after WWII and was send to Indonesia, still a Dutch colony at the time, although not for long. After witnessing the atrocities the Dutch perpetrated in Indonesia, he deserted, and fled to Australia. There he vowed never to step foot on Dutch soil again, bitter over the deeds of his home-country. Even 50 years later, close before his death, he refused to return to the country he despised so much. Even when his offspring was on a visit to Holland to find their roots, he remained bitter, and never came back.

    Sorry for the sad story.

    (btw you can strike me of the list, Edie, don’t want to burden you with the expense of sending a book internationally)

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      What an upstanding man — it’s a sad story, but also one that shows where you get your moral compass. And I suspect most of these stories will be unfortunate ones of war and escape. Thanks so much for starting the comments.

      I made a deliberate decision to keep this contest international, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  2. #2. Sounds like a fascinating book. Since I’m busily tracing my ancestors back to their arrival in America–most in the 17th century, there were a lot of perilous sea voyages involved. However, the story that continues to fascinate the most is that of Jesse Morgan who left left his 2nd wife to care for their daughter and his two daughters form a prior marriage when he took off for California in the gold rush. It seems likely that he took up with another woman along the way. She seemed to think that he married her (which of course we know would have been illegal since he was already married). They started a rooming house together in Sacramento and my brother related the end of the story at Ancestors in Aprons (If I’m allowed to put in a link, it’s )
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted..52 Ancestors: #33 Ezekiel Howe, Rum and RevolutionMy Profile

  3. Hilary says:

    #3. I don’t have much family history (just some photos without notation)–my cousins have been digging, but I do know that my grandmother and grandfather immigrated to Ellis Island from Austria in 1909, when my grandmother was 13 and my grandfather was 20! They were first cousins (that was a shock) and left the country with my grandmother’s older sister, and they were given different last names than their original (Tigger, which turned into Tiger for my grandparents, but my aunt kept Tigger). After landing in Ellis Island, they settled in the Bronx, and my grandfather eventually owned many tailor shops and was probably a sweatshop owner in the garment district of NY (unclear how he went to NY from the Bronx daily). My grandmother’s father was an orthodox rabbi who came over later. My mother was born when my grandmother was 16, and my mother was always terrified of her own grandfather, the rabbi, because of all the prominent blue veins showing on his nose!

  4. Frankie Blei says:

    #4. My parents escaped from Vienna, Austria in 1938. they had been married for about 4 months. They were due to leave together to go to England via Holland. Someone came and warned my father (to be) that the Nazis were coming to arrest him so he fled – I think it took a week before they met up again in Holland. The went to England and left for Canada from Liverpool. Then they went across Canada by train. They had their luggage and whatever the minimum amount that was required by the Australian government for their entry here. On ships the food was included in the pre-paid fares, but not on the train. At at least 2 stations where the train stopped to re-fuel, lots of Polish Jewish people came to the station with food for the passengers. My mother wrote to her mother who was still in Vienna that they were stunned by this generosity. I still have the letters (written in pencil in German) which my mother wrote “home” during their journey.

    • Georgina Livery says:

      Hi Frankie

      The company I work for has recently purchased the old factory in Little Bakers Lane Northcote – and we are refurbishing for office use.
      We thought it would be good to try to have some of the history of the building/previous owbers on the walls – my research leads to Leopold Hauser – although all that is mentioned is the house/shop on Clarke street – and I can only presume at this stage that the factory was behind in the lane.
      I have found a bit of information so far – titles, old newspaper clippings, your photos etc – maybe you could confirm what I have found and what I should use
      Many thanks
      Georgina 03 86838523 Arcitecta Pty Ltd

  5. Frankie Blei says:

    #5 My grandfather’s cousin, Leopold Hauser, came to Australia – alone – from Moravia in 1893, aged 23 years. He became “involved” with an Australian girl, Rosa May and after having 3 children with her, married her in 1898. They then had 7 more children of whom twins were stillborn. He brought “Vienna Bread” to Australia and it was so popular that the Australian government organised for him to have honorary British citizenship so that he could supply the Australian Army with his bread during WWI. He and his wife and some of his daughters worked so hard to obtain Visas to get Visa for my parents, my mother’s sister and her husband and my mother’s parents in 1938/39. Without his efforts I would not have come into existence. He was diabetic. He became so involved with his struggle to obtain the Visas (for other people too) that he ignored his illness and sadly passed away, aged 69, in December 1939, a year after my parents’ arrival in Melbourne.

  6. #6 My father’s side of the family lived in a small town in Chekanova- Russia/ Poland. When my grandfather was away on a business trip, Russian Cossaks broke into their house, ransacked it and drank all of the ceremonial wine. Then they lined up the whole family, four boys and two girls and my grandmother and they were prepared to execute all of them because they were Jewish. At the very last moment, an officer came into the house, took pity on my grandmother with all of her children and he shooed the drunken cossacks out of the house.

    When my grandfather returned two days later, my grandmother had everything packed. She told my grandfather that they were leaving the very next day.However since there were quotas to get into the USA, they went to Cuba which had little or no anti-semitism there.

    The family stayed there for years and prospered. However, when my grandmother heard that a revolution was brewing, once again my grandmother packed everything and told my grandfather that they were leaving for ” America” since by then the quotas had been lifted. The family arrived in NYC in the early 1920’s.

  7. Jill Kornmehl says:

    #7 Our special family journey started in Tajikistan and ended in Tarnov, Poland for Nathan Kornmehl. A long and difficult trek of 4500 miles that took weeks. It was a trip that reunited relatives who had last seen each other in 1938 in Tarnov, Poland before Nathan was exiled to Siberia and then to Tajikistan. Nathan experienced crossing time zones, unpleasant weather conditions and different languages as he found his way back to his hometown. There he encountered Frances Leder, who he described as “beautiful”. Together they began a new journey of love, marriage and ultimately five beautiful children who pay tribute to their survival.

  8. Vernon Kerr says:

    #8 I’m a former writing student of Manfred’s and mostly German and Anglo-Saxon by heritage, but I’m also 1/16 Native American, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs certified. I enjoy speculating about the journey some of my ancestors took across the land bridge or sea-ice between Asia and North America, millennia ago. When I hear someone bragging that their ancestors came to America on the Mayflower, 400 years ago. I’ve always been tempted to answer, “Well my ancestors came to America 50,000 years ago: they walked.” I already have a copy of ‘Survival in Paradise’ so if I win, please give my book to a young Jewish person. I think it would be a wonderful benefit for that young person to understand and perhaps vicariously come to some resolution about that sad epoch in Jewish and Human history, like Manfred did.
    Vernon Kerr recently posted..Amnesty and The Enduring Question of ImmigrationMy Profile

  9. Martha says:

    #9 It’s not my family’s story, but a great story nonetheless. A friend from college, a Sabra (Native Israeli) by birth, when asked how her family came to America when she was a child, answered quite simply–on the Queen Mary!

    Not quite the steerage stories of the early 1900s.


  10. Judith Hibbard-Mipaas says:

    #10 As I pack for a move halfway across the country, I’ve been thinking about my (traditionally, of course) peripatetic family, and discussing it with my cousins. Family on my mother’s side came from Szeged in the 19th century; my mother was semi-proud to be technically a Yankee (though a Dodgers fan). My father’s family went from Dvinsk to Manchester, England, where he and most of his sibs were born. The came to New York in 1924 on a Cunard liner–and not in steerage. He claimed they didn’t go through Ellis Island but the ship manifest is on record there; I think they simply weren’t held there, as they weren’t poor. My parents moved to LA when WWII broke out, back to NYC in the 1950s, then I moved my mom to San Francisco when my current spouse and I moved there in the early 1980s. Ever the rootless cosmopolitans.
    My patronymic Mipaas is my father’s spelling of the acronym Mem Pey Zion (son of Pinchas Tzion); the rest of the family uses Mipos or Meepos (that was Uncle Max the LA gun dealer). But much of the rest of the family used a translation that becomes Finegold; we’ve never know what happened to those relatives–or to the ones who went to Australia and changed the name to Crosby.

  11. Cynthia says:

    #11 Both sides of my family were working class, small town Pennsylvanians. They died in the same small towns they were born in and there was no money for vacations. My father was an exception. In the early 50’s he was driving a tractor trailer, hauling steel from PA to OH. We moved to OH when I was about four years old, and, after a couple of years, my father “took up” with the married secretary in the small trucking company where he worked. In those days affairs and divorces were scandalous and it was not uncommon for lovers to leave town rather than face the malice of their families and neighbors. He and Juanita went on a road trip that ended up in Tempe AZ. I remember after he contacted us I could not believe he was living in cowboy land and had a girlfriend with such an exotic name. Two years later he and my mother reconciled and he showed up in a turquoise Ford Fairlane hard top convertible. And he was wearing a cowboy hat and boots. What a shock, he had left his small town conservative self and gone native (no pun intended)! I ended up in Tucson after moving around quite a bit and sometimes smile to myself thinking that my dad was out here so long ago and muse about how different it must have been. No air conditioning, sunscreen, or misters; I don’t even know if ceiling fans were widely used. He would have never have been mistaken for a Father-Knows-Best type of dad, but I am glad he showed me that by traveling you can discover new sides of yourself.

  12. #12 My family moved around a lot as did my father’s family. Business ventures, political strife and the coming of the Nazi’s kept the family moving. I’ve moved a lot as well though now that I’m in my 50’s I have stayed put in one place at least for a while longer. One of the biggest challenges in doing my family history has been the fact that i have mixed heritage, both Jewish and Catholic and WWII and the Holocaust effected the family in different and challenging ways. I love looking at the whole picture and the diversity of the family history. Afterall, I can’t change a thing about the past so I might as well embrace it.

  13. #13 We don’t know if it’s true, but a cousin said that our great, great grandparents were on the Trail of Tears and defected into the mountains of Arkansas.
    Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell recently posted..We’re Hot for our Regency Wood StoveMy Profile

  14. karyn zoldan says:

    #14 My maternal grandmother came from Russia to escape the pogroms. She and her two sisters and one brother got on the boat but were separated by the ship staff. Two sisters went one way and the sister and brother went another way during the long voyage. They were young. They were frightened. They were treated like third-class citizens.

    When they got off the boat at Ellis Island with thousands of others, my grandmother and her sister’s last name which was multi-syllabic with many consonants strung together had their name changed to Bradlyn.

    They never found their siblings. They don’t know if they died on the voyage as many did because of sickness. Their last name could’ve been changed to something else.

    The two surviving sisters were young, afraid, and life was chaotic. Survival and moving forward was key. After my grandmother (bubbie) told me this story, she never wanted to talk about it. I heard it while in junior high and the door opened and the door closed.
    karyn zoldan recently posted..Tucson: Twist and Shout at Vero Amore Pizza – Sept 2My Profile

  15. Anna Redsand says:


    My great grandfather, Roelof Van Zwol was a journeyer from the very beginning because his family lived on a houseboat in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. That houseboat was also the family business, traveling up and down the canals delivering peat for heating homes. Because he was born in 1871, he was most likely born on their boat, hence always in motion.
    Roelof’s parents docked the houseboat in Leeuwarden to record his birth at the Burgerlijke Stand (public records institution founded by Napoleon). Incidentally, MC Escher happens to have been born in Leeuwarden.

    Eleven people, eight of them Roelof’s siblings, lived on the houseboat. Roelof described that life to his daughter, my Great Aunt Sadie, as cozy rather than crowded. Young Roelof loved the canal life, especially fierljeppen—canal jumping, which is like pole vaulting, except it’s done across a body of water. You could say that those were journeys of another kind, and sometimes thoroughly wet ones. If you ever read Meindert De Jong’s Newbery winner, The Wheel on the School, you’ll remember those round little youngsters with flat Dutchboy caps jumping the canals and sometimes falling in, as illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Today canal jumping is an extreme sport, but at the 20 second-spot on this YouTube video, there’s a clip of how it probably appeared in Roelof’s day.

    As a young man, Roelof took a longer journey, boarding a ship, probably in Rotterdam, a common jumping off place for immigrants to the United States. In the US, he first settled in LeMars, Iowa and changed his name to Ralph. He married a woman named Mary and became the father of my maternal grandfather, Henrik. Later the family moved to Everett, Washington, where there was work in the lumber and paper industry.

    Just before his death in 1948, he learned that his eldest granddaughter, my mother was expecting her first child, me. He wrote in his European script how delighted he was to hear the news. He died weeks before I was born, so I never met him, but I still have that note.

  16. Elena says:

    #16 One of my grandmothers told me a story about a very distant relative who was a Welsh member of the aristocracy or royalty. He fell in love with the daughter of one the the servants. Of course their union was not possible at the time because of the social hierarchy and pressures so they eloped to the New World and that is how two of my ancestors ended up in the USA. Unfortunately both my grandmothers are now dead and the one time I asked them both to retell me that story, niether remembered telling it to me in the first place, so I have no idea how true it really is.

  17. #17 My maternal great-grandfather left Poland in the early 1880’s, when the Czar started to make life difficult again for Jews, and then he sent for his wife and children in a few years, and so her mother came on a boat when she was five. The family settled in Cleveland. My mother’s father came by himself from Hungary when he was 14. He eventually got a job in my mother’s grandfather’s small department store on Mayfield Road, I believe, where he met my maternal grandmother.
    After finding the Polish name of the original town with the help of a genealogist and the Yiddish pronunciation computer translator, I also learned the stories of what happened to those who stayed when the Germans entered. These stories are haunting. It is hard to conceive of. In 1939 all the Jews in that town, as they were throughout Poland, were sent to the camps, and I found the names of a young family that must have been my relatives in the Yizkor books.
    The family stayed close for a generation in Cleveland, but eventually scattered across the U.S.
    Diane Schmidt recently posted..An ambulance blessed in Albuquerque is headed for IsraelMy Profile

  18. KimT says:

    #18 We knew next to nothing about our ancestors until my brother became obsessed with researching them, our paternal great-grandfather in particular. He’s a doctor, and after a patient’s wife (a seer, sensitive to spirits) insisted she saw a man in a white coat standing next to my brother, with her sense that he was protecting and guiding him, he had to know more. This was the second time he’d been told that very thing.

    So far, we don’t know the special significance of the white-coated man, but we learned our great-grandfather came to the US from Germany at the turn of the century – with a companion who originated in Denmark, a woman with a child. That woman would become his wife, the child his son. They traveled to California, then settled in Chicago, IL, where his Koch family has lived since.

    Most of our connected families seem to have come to the states between the early 1800’s to beginning of 1900’s, all from Germany or Prussia, but their reasons are unknown. Not as thrilling as Freud’s butcher, but we did find a maternal Kirschbaum relative who’d live downstate in IL as a tailor – he was also the tailor for President Ulysses S. Grant, and believed to have made uniforms for the Civil War soldiers.

    We continue our search to learn more. It’s fascinating!
    KimT recently posted..A Chance to Make an Incredible DifferenceMy Profile

  19. Marilyn says:

    #19 At the age of 17, when I needed my birth certificate for a trip to Canada, (remember Edie & Sha), I discovered that my mother was born in Poland. She immigrated to the US in 1929 when she was 8 years old. She never spoke of her childhood in the Shtel because of the terror she experienced during the pogroms. My grandfather came to the US 5 years earlier and worked as a furrier to save money to bring over his wife and 2 daughters. When my mom’s ship landed at Ellis Island, my grandfather was there to greet them. But instead of flowers he brought bananas; my mom had never before seen this tropical fruit!

  20. Nelda Percival says:

    It started in 1775, we had heard rumors that the English colonies were revolting and there might be war, .if the colonies did not come round.King George, III of England, brother in law to my Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (a principality in northern Hesse) and Uncle to his son William, count of Hesse-Hanau was asking Frederick and William along with several others to hire out their standing armies. King George III, would break the rebels back and force his colonies to pay the new taxes required by Parliament.This excited me, I  Johann Jacob Bonstein, an adult male would get to travel to the colonies. It would be nothing to end this rebellion, we were the best equipped and trained army in the world. I might even get to stay. Sometimes a good soldier was offered land for doing his job well. I knew if I came home there was nothing here for me, as the third son of a family of five children, there was nothing for me but being a monk or a soldier. I really did not want to be either. I wanted a home and a family of my own.. I would work hard, not complain and pray for the best.
    Our Regiment von Knyphausen left the fortress of Ziegenheim Mar. 3, 1776 & marched 200 miles to the port of Bremerlehe, now Bremerhaven. We rested from the march every Tuesday and Friday. At Bremerlehe we were inspected by an English Colonel & had to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England. In early April we were loaded on the ships and embarked 15 April 1776. . I say we because my older brother Paulas was there too. A violent storm arose as the fleet padded through the English Channel causing much seasickness & many injuries. On May 20th there was another storm but the fleet reached the Newfoundland Banks June 20th, Nova Scotia July 7th and New York Harbor August 11th. 
    Every one was off the ships by August 14th, four months after we had boarded.
    During our journey Seume, who was captive poet, wrote a graphic description of our experiences on shipboard. We were packed like herring. A tall man could not stand upright between decks, nor sit up straight in his berth. To every such berth six men were allotted, but as there was room for only four, the last two had to squeeze in as best they might. “This was not cool in warm weather,” says Seume. Thus the men lay in what boys call “spoon fashion,” and when they were tired on one side, the man on the right would call “about face,” and the whole file would turn over at once; then, when they were tired again, the man on the left would give the same order, and they would turn back on to the first side. The food was on a par with the lodging. Pork and pease were the chief of their diet. The pork seemed to be four or five years old. It was streaked with black towards the outside, and was yellow farther in, with a little white in the middle. The salt beef was in much the same condition. The ship biscuit was often full of maggots. “We had to eat them for a relish,” says Seume, “not to reduce our slender rations too much.” This biscuit was so hard that they sometimes broke it up with a cannon-ball, and the story ran that it had been taken from the French in the Seven Years’ War, and lain in Portsmouth ever since. The English had kept it twenty years or so, and “were now feeding the Germans with it, that these might, if it were God’s will, destroy Rochambeau and Lafayette. It does not seem to have been God’s will, exactly.” Sometimes they had groats and barley, or, by way of a treat, a pudding made of flour mixed half with salt water and half with fresh water, and with old, old mutton fat. The water was all spoiled. When a cask was opened “it stank between decks like Styx, Phlegethon, and Cocytus all together.” It was thick with filaments as long as your finger, and they had to filter it through a cloth before we could drink it. We held their noses strong while we drank, and yet it was so scarce that they fought to get it. Rum, and sometimes a little beer, completed their fare.”
    “Thus crowded together, with close air, bad food, and foul water, many of us insufficiently clothed, these boys and old men, students, shopkeepers, and peasants tossed for months on the Atlantic. Much of the suffering of the voyage was doubtless inevitable, and many of the recruits were already inured to hardship. But much of what they underwent was the result of wanton carelessness or grasping avarice. What shall we say of the British Quartermaster’s Department, which sent us to sea without proper food or drink? What of the Duke of Brunswick, who despatched us, his subjects to Canada without shoes and stockings that would hold together, and without overcoats? We have often borne such hardships cheerfully for a cause that we understood and loved. But we suffered in a quarrel that was not our own, and simply to provide means to pay the debts, or minister to the pleasures of their masters. It is well for you to know something of our sufferings; to know what despotism means.”
    Paulas and I, both being  in Company B, Kassel Fuselier Regt. von Knyphausen; and were in the battles of Long Island, NY, 1776, White Plains, NY, 1776, Fort Washington, NY, 1776, and Trenton, NJ, Decenber 24/25 1776. Where we both were capitured in the battle of Trenton.. Now that was a snicky attack, on Christmas eve. But it helped George Washington their general. Paulas and I were seperated. The next time I saw him was after I was exchanged in 1778.

    Copied verbatim:
    “On the 4th of September, 1779, the Regiments von Knyphausen and von Lossberg received orders to make ready to embark with all their baggage, and with such of their sick as could support a journey. Their destination was Quebec, though the men did not know it at the time. The Knyphausen and Lossberg regiments were two of those which had been captured at Trenton. The prisoners taken on that occasion had been exchanged, and the regiments, which had at one time formed part of a combined battalion, were now acting independently again.”

    “Wiederhold had received a commission as captain in the Regiment von Knyphausen. The two regiments were embarked on the 8th of September on six vessels. Wiederhold’s quarters were on the Triton, a brig armed with six small cannon and two swivels. The brig was crowded and uncomfortable, and had at first a crew of only seven men, counting the captain, cook, and steward. The Hessians on board were a lieutenant-colonel, who was sick, two captains, a lieutenant, an ensign, and a surgeon, and nearly two companies of infantry.”

    You can read of my time on this ship because Captain Wiederhold kept a journal. OUR ships were attacked by a hurrican, we were seperated and the Trenton was capitured. I swore and Prayed and Begged God should I live, should he bless me and let me live, I would never enmark in a ship again. I never saw my brother again and this saddened me just thinking for sure he had drowned. Momma would be so sad to loose both of us.

    I went awol, found and married my wife and started the American Bonsteins. My only regret is nit seeing my family in Roupenhousen, Germany ever again

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