July 24, 2024
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July 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Life of Herzl Melcer AKA Lt. Iwan Siemienowicz Pidlowskij

(Continued from last week)

Part 4

In June of 2013 I contacted a Boris Feldblyum who lived in Potomac, Maryland. I have no recollection from where I received his name and address, but as it turned out this contact would be of the greatest importance and helpful to our endeavor. Boris’ mother also wrote her memoirs. She was 12 years old when the Germans invaded the USSR, and although she traveled a similar route, she eventually stayed in Uzbekistan.

I am still at this time in contact with him in connection with our desire to obtain information on Dorothy’s father. But that is a different story for another time.

Boris’ profession is architectural photography, but as a sideline he uses the connections that he has in Russia to be helpful (for a fee) to people seeking information in that area. In early July 2013, Boris was able to obtain for us eight pages of records from the archives of the Russian Ministry of Defense, confirming the information that we had received previously and giving other details of the military unit Herzl had been with and the medals he had received. Since the documents were naturally in Russian, I had them translated into English. Because of the technical language in the documents, the translation is sometimes difficult, but generally the meaning is understandable.

Now that we had documents showing what had happened to Herzl, we wanted to tackle the next problem—to find his burial place, which, according to the latest information, was in a mass grave. But where was that, and how did he get there?

Still thinking only in terms of the location in Neumühlen, as confirmed by the Russian documents, I contacted Rabbi Teichtal of the Chabad Organization in Berlin in August 2013 to find out whether he could have someone travel to the gravesite and take some photographs. Unfortunately, I had been given an incorrect address of Rabbi Teichtal and consequently received no reply. It was not until October that I was able to speak to Rabbi Teichtal, through the intervention of Rabbi Shain of Chabad in Tenafly. Rabbi Teichtal was visiting the U.S. and promised to see what he could do when he returns to Berlin. In order to assist Rabbi Teichtal, I sent him a map I had been able to download from Google Earth, showing the Kriegsgräberstätte (War Cemeteries) in the area of Neumühlen near the river Oder. I even sent Rabbi Teichtal a Google Map of the direct highway to that area from Berlin. Nothing came of this approach since no volunteer could be found, although I offered to reimburse all expenses.

I had an exchange of emails with Steven Vitto, a researcher in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the records available there did not extend to history of the family’s travels. They are outside of their Holocaust-related records.

We now needed to do a little geographic and political research in order to pinpoint the location of the cemetery. This is what we learned over a period of time.

According to the information we had obtained previously, Neumühlen was southwest of Küstrin, which is now called Kostrzyn in Polish and is at the Oder River. That area was East Germany when the war ended but was ceded to Poland when the border was realigned (Oder-Neisse Line). Since the records of the Russian Ministry of Defense, of which we had received copies, were made during, or shortly after the end of the war, all their identification of names were pre- war end. Therefore, we should not be looking for a grave in Neumühlen in Germany, but rather for a grave in Kostrzyn in Poland.

Although Rabbi Teichtal was unable to locate someone to go to the site to take photographs, the contact with Rabbi Teichtal did bear fruit, but in a different direction. I received an email from Frau Myriam von Oppen in the Chabad Berlin Office, giving me a contact party in Küstrin, now known as Kostrzyn. Frau von Oppen sent me a copy of an email she received from a Martin Rogge, chairman of Verein für die Geschichte Küstrins e.V. (Association for the History of Küstrin). It is Martin with whom I commenced an email exchange over the years, which is still ongoing from time to time (I reply to him promptly, he replies to me after several months).

This is what we learned from his initial email to Chabad of Berlin. Neumühlen does not exist, but the town was correctly known as Neumühl, and since 1945 belongs to Poland and is now known as Namyslin. Although there are still many cemeteries of Russian soldiers in towns along the Oder River on the German side, on the Polish side of the Oder all graves of Russian soldiers were reburied in a mass grave in the 1950s in Meseritz, now known as Miedzyrzecz, about 60 km east of Küstrin. In Meseritz is supposedly a huge cemetery but only with mass graves. Martin recommended that interested parties should contact the Polish Red Cross and also the city administration where a list of soldiers’ names should be available.

All the above information from Martin was in German, and so are also all the subsequent emails from and to him until this day. I try my best, with apologies for errors. My German spelling had never been very good, with my education in Germany having been interrupted by Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938.

In subsequent correspondence Martin explained that the Google Area photo I had sent to Rabbi Teichtal, showing military cemeteries in the area, was not correct. They are cemeteries of German soldiers.

(To be continued after Sukkot.)

By Norbert Strauss



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