Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Visiting the Radom Archives

I have traced my family in Radom back to the 1700s and intended to do some research in the Radom archives. We soon found the USC which is the archive that has records from the last 100 years. We were a bit disconcerted to discover the building locked, but upon inquiring were told to proceed through the alley to the back of the building where we found an entrance. We hesitantly made our way up the stairs following signs to the USC. A line was outside a small office in which no one seemed to speak English. I wrote down the name of the woman I had corresponded with previously and asked for her. They quickly called Emily and we were able to discuss what I needed in English. Records are 22 zlotys each, about $7 and she had found the death records for my great-grandparents and records on the family of the one surviving cousin. I was interested in those as the story was that he had taken his younger brother’s name and birth date after the war as he heard it was easier to gain entrance to the US if you were younger. This became a bit of a problem for him when he was old enough for social security. We made plans for me to return in a few days and she would prepare copies of the records. She had searched for many other records on my behalf unsuccessfully.

Our next stop was the PSA, the archives that hold the records that are older than 100 years. The PSA is located on a small park at Rynek 1. We parked in front of the building and purchased a ticket to park there from the machine up the street.

Here I met Michalina, a 15 year old Polish girl who was assisting me at the archives. I had met Michalina on-line when she was seeking information on the Jewish community of Radom. As I had created the Shtetlink website on Radom, I shared stories with her from my research. When I made plans to go to Radom, I had asked her if she might be able to assist me. Michalina arrived accompanied by her parents who have invited us to have dinner at their home next week. We are very much looking forward to talking with a Polish family from Radom.

Upon entering the building we went down the corridor on the right and deposited our belongings in one of the lockers on the wall. We brought a computer and papers into the research room where we were able to request documents from the archivists. Internet was not available at the archives so research in their on-line catalog needed to be performed prior to going to the archives. Any copies must be purchased, not photographed. Copies of pages cost 3 zlotys (about $1) with double that for a scan of the documents.

Fortunately I had done considerable research prior to arriving at the archives. The on-line catalog is quite extensive, but it is just in Polish so it was a slow and laborious process to search for files related to the Jewish community. First I identified a likely file based on Polish words that typically described Jews. Then I used my translation software to arrive at some understanding of what they included. As I had already located most of the available birth, marriage and death records, I was digging into different types of documents. One in which I was particularly interested appeared to address the surnames that Jews were required to assume in 1823. Prior to that time they had used patronymics, their father’s name with an ending meaning that they were the son or daughter. To have a document that connected the patronymic with the last name was a key to working further back in time.

At the archives I was able to review a book with indexes to identity papers which Jews were required to take out during WWII. These documents often had photographs and indicated birthdates, parents’ names and addresses. They were disturbing to me, knowing that most of their recipients were murdered within a year. I requested several identity papers as well as many of the documents that I had identified on-line. Michalina was very helpful in being able translate between me and the archivists and her assistance made the process move much more smoothly.

After leaving the archives we walked the nearby streets and I took pictures of many of the addresses where family had shops and offices. I had reviewed business directories from the 1930s and recorded addresses prior to our trip. Soon a violent rain storm began, a frequent occurrence on this trip, and we ran to our car to begin our drive to the small town in which we were staying. Kazimierz Dolny is a charming town located on the Vistula River which attracts many weekend visitors. In recent days Poland has been faced with flooding and we weren’t sure if we would be able to get to the town. Our host reassured us that it was accessible through some detours so we decided to venture forth. It is close to Lublin and the concentration camp Madjanek which we hoped to visit the following day. One detour and much rain later we arrived in Kazimierz Dolny.

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