Category Archives: Who Were You Dora?

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? The Father’s Letter

Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home ...
Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home …

Note: This is a postscript to my Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

Translations ascribe meaning.

The trouble is when different people translate the same letter and ascribe different meanings, or at least a different tone to the text.

Among the letter found from Poland (Belarus today) was a letter from Dora’s father, Nachum (Nochim) Meir. The letter is dated April 5th, 1936. It was written to the daughter Libby (in New York) in Yiddish, in very small and difficult to read handwriting, without punctuation marks. It caused difficulties for all who tried to read it. Which only adds to the confusion.

Here are a few examples.

This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer's studio. Dora was only born in 1920...
This is Libby, the eldest daughter the letter was addressed to. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer’s studio. 
  • One version of the translation claims the letter begins: “I am writing you dear daughter but you will not have pleasure from my letter, because I am writing you now to unburden myself, as they say, as I do not have one good friend. This is why I’m writing to you, you will understand me. I am carrying around a bitter heart from everything”. The other versions claim that the father is writing NOT to unburden himself from all the distress and pain in his heart but just so his daughter will understand him.
  • The next issue is more conflicted. All five of Nachum Meir’s children from his late first wife fled their childhood home with the terrorizing step-mother, and immigrated. Tales passed down the generations tell of a father who never stood up for his children or noticed that they were being underfed, denied proper clothing  for the severe winters and generally mistreated. The question is, did he regret all of that? One version claims he wrote that he feels so bad because he knows he was the worst father in the world. It sounds like a true apology. However, in another translation he sounds like the stereotypical Jewish mother blaming the offspring: “It seems that I am indeed the worst father in the world, as the children do not want to know what I am doing and how I live. Especially since one son and one daughter have children of their own, therefore it should not be like this”.
  • All translators agree in regards to the only mention of Hitler in all of these letters – he wishes his poor health and troubles on Hitlers’ followers.
Dora 1935
Dora 1935
  • Another source of conflicting information is in regards to Dora, whose letters we read. All versions agree that the father is asking for money for his sick wife and for Dora’s schooling. On the one hand, from one version of the translation and from Dora’s letters it seems that she is studying in a high-school (Gymnasium): “ …( cut part) Dora another two years in the gymnasium. Her studies will be finished and then she will earn money. She already earns money now, she has some lessons. For the first lesson she took only two dollars (why would he write about dollars??!), then she immediately got another one…I hope she will be able to earn but she must finish the gymnasium in two years.” We do know from Dora’s letters  that she graduated in 1938 but she mentions working for money only starting that year.  She doesn’t say doing what. A different version of the translation claims that money is needed to pay the tutor who teaches Dora so that she can graduate. No Dora tutoring anyone. Perhaps “pay the tutor” is the same as paying the school?

Was he a contrite father writing for help or did he feel unjustly treated by his fleeing offspring? I want to believe the former because of this sentence (only one translator figured it out): “In life you always make mistakes and the world is such that you always hurry and you run and you stop for nothing and die like a fool”.

I guess I’ll never know.

Very sad, no matter how you look at it.

 

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? The Last Letter

The last letter
The last letter

Note: This is currently the last installment of the Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

I see this as a temporary end to the series, as my goal is to find out as much as possible about Dora’s life – the schools she went to, what her neighborhood looked like and more. I will not post the details of her death on this blog, on October 15, 1942, at the age of 22.  Dora and her father were registered by the Nazis when entering the Brest Ghetto in November 1941, as you can see here. Dora’s name is on line four. Her father’s name is the one on the last line.  To read about the fate of those who entered that Ghetto, read here.

brest ghetto passport

This last letter is clearly dated August 25, 1940. Two sentences are marked in bold. One breaks my heart (especially when one knows what awaited her) and the other calls for further research as to what she meant.

Dora aged 15
Dora aged 15

“Dear Sister,

Your postcard procured us a great pleasure because we did not hope yet to get letters from you. Nearly a whole year passed that we did not correspond one with the other and has delightfully is that we can at last write one to the other. I forgot almost write English during the time, because I am not using it.  

What to me I have none news. As you know I did not succeed in life to this time. I must reconcile with that. The housework is very not interesting and I am busy day by day at house.

From Palestine we have not any letter. There is very unquietly. The father works at a state working place. He will also write you a letter the next days.

Write as soon as you will get this card. Let us hear good news one from the other and the rest family.

Your sincere Dora”

No good news came.

So very sad.

SATURDAY’S MYSTERY: WHO WERE YOU, DORA? CROWDSOURCING Q. 9

The passport photo of Beileh, one of Dora's half sisters who immigrated in 1927. Do you think they had the same eyes?
The passport photo of Beileh, one of Dora’s half sisters who immigrated in 1927. Do you think they had the same eyes?
Dora 1935 - Do you see a resemblance to half sister Beileh?
Dora 1935 – Do you see a resemblance to half sister Beileh?

Note: This is part eleven of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post

This is the next to last letter. It is undated but the next letter mentions the fact that a year has passed since they last heard from Libby. That letter is dated August 1940.

“Dear Libby!

Thanks you very much for your letter and pictures. I wished to write you now a big letter but alas I am very occupied with work in the house, because we have not today a servant, and beside this I have some ????? ( see below) because I must earn a little money. Much time I have not, to this I have also other unpleasant thinks so that I have not sufferance to write more. Perhaps I shall write you for myself a letter, when I shall have more time.

Thanks you for a dictionary”.

earn money unclear word

 

 

SATURDAY’S MYSTERY: WHO WERE YOU, DORA? CROWDSOURCING Q. 8

Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home ...
Dora and her father, Nochim Meir. The only two that remained at home …

Note: This is part ten of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

There are two words that I need your help with in this letter. The date is January, but I’m not sure of what year. In the future perhaps I will find the right marriage records which will help date the letter.

Note: Libby is Dora’s half sister on her father’s side.

“Dear Libby and Irving,

I am happy in your happiness, I wish you the best from the bottom of the hearth.  I am surely glad to hear from you good news, but my joy is mixed with a deep mourning because there passed nearly two months that my love mother died. The pitiful father he had built twice the life and what remained him. The children disseminated over the world , we remained two lonely lubu ???.  Such is the lot. I wish to write you a letter in Jewish because the nujuol ??? is me  clear to be able to write in English all have what to say you.

two lonely something

not a nujol

Please write about your new life, about your husband, what is his doing. Believe me that the only pleasure is to get a letter from you. Because from Palestine we hear  anything. Write me what happened with them

New dear Irving How it came that you are us dear? In my mathematics if you are dear to Lillian and she is dear to me, then you are also dear to me. If you have time and desire that we shall correspond, I’m going to write you a letter.

As ever,

your sister Dora”

 

 

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You Dora? Visualising the Words

Dora's grandfther Tsoidek
Dora’s grandfther Tsoidek

Note: This is part nine of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

In this post I pause to visually sort out the family members mentioned in the letters so far and give them a time frame. This is a work in progress, updates will be made as I learn of them.

 

Next week I will post another letter.

 

SATURDAY’S MYSTERY: WHO WERE YOU, DORA? CROWDSOURCING Q. 7

This is Feige /Zipora, the other sister mentioned in part one of the letter. My grandmother immigrated in 1933
This is Feige /Zipora, the other sister mentioned in part one of the letter. My grandmother immigrated in 1933

Note: This is part eight of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

Note the text marked in blue. As an English teacher I can say I've never read an error that so broke my heart. We know her future...
This is part two of last week’s letter. There’s a word I can’t make out in English with a word in Yiddish above it. A kind soul online thinks it might mean”respected”. I can’t quite see how it fits in.

“…. I have not a dictionary and not using English I forget from time to time. My English is very bad now not true? That I can write you about me. I can add more, that my cousin from Kowel invited me to come to him for the Pesach. I could amuse myself for some days. But from known to you causes I can not come to him.

Perhaps have you good bews for us? Please don’t loook that I write not soon, write sooner answer. Understand, that I am younger and therefore all the troubles influence on me so strong. I must confess that I am not at all ??? Each little thing oldnesses me I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it will pass when all things will be better.

yiddish word 1

I write a little too more and such things that I have not to write. I hope that you will nit be angry, sometimes a man must tell something from the heart, it is very difficult to keep all in himself. Excuse for the letter full of blunders, I think you will understand it.

How do you do? Have you work? Let we hope that the bad will not be for ever, and there will come better times to our family. I shall finish now. My lovely regards to you and all our uncles and cousins.

Your loving sister,

Dora

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? Crowdsourcing Q. 6

This is Bluma, one of the half sisters mentioned. Photo taken sometime before 1935, when she immigrated. Bluma was the last sibling to leave. Very stylish!
This is Bluma, one of the half sisters mentioned. Photo taken sometime before 1935, when she immigrated. Bluma was the last sibling to leave. Very stylish!

Note: This is part seven of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

The answer to last week’s unknown subject at the University is stomathology, which means Dentistry. Thanks again to Beata & Sandy for the answer!

This week’s letter is clearly dated – March 18, 1939. Almost a half a year before the war.  Do you think the women really wore particularly fashionable dresses at that time ( “a great luxus”) or did it just seem that way to a 19 year old girl who couldn’t afford any?

Dear Lillian,

There passed a long time, that I did not write to you a letter. Believe me, that I am to occupied with the house work and troubles that I forgett even in myself. Many times I wish to sit and write to you some words, bit so it happens that I have nothing good to write you and I am also very lazy to write.  But in your letter to me I find so much warm words, I feel after reading it, that beside sickness and troubles I have even far from me an heart which loves me a little. Is it not true? Now is the Saturday at evening. All the day I set at house and I write you the letter.

Very good news I have not to write to you, the same as your letter does not bring them. You know, many times I fall in such a desperation that I think that over our family hangs such a fate, which directs our life. I see that all my school friends study farther, they dress themself according to the latest mode, they know from a life. None of them does not live in such troubles as I.  The same is with Bluma and Feige in Palestine and aslo with you in U.S.A. Bluma is a very beautiful girl (so she was when she goes to Palestine, now I do not know). Now she is in Palestine, she must work hard and care for herself and what has she there? The same is with you. But better not to speak.

No wonder Dora looks so sad in this photo - it was taken just before Bluma left. it says so on the back. They were close in age and must have been close.
No wonder Dora looks so sad in this photo – it was taken just before Bluma left. it says so on the back. They were close in age and must have been close.

I myself am also a little ill. I went to a physician and he said that it is aneme (wanting of blood). {obviously anemia,} He said that it comes from troubles et cetera. He said that I must leave the home for a month (because he cures my mother and the father, so that he knows all). But it is (not) possible, as it is (not) possible for me to come to America, But let I have such a trouble with my mother as with myself. All my time I spend at house, I does not go to any place, Many times I can not leave the house and the mother and sometimes when I can go or I have not fit clothes (there is is to day a great luxus in the country).

To be continued (it’s a long letter)…

 

 

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? Crowdsourcing Q.5

This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer's studio. Dora was only born in 1920...
This is Libby, the half sister Dora was writing to in the U.S.A. She could not have had real memories of Libby. The photo is dated April 27, 1925 stamped by a US photographer’s studio. Dora was only born in 1920…

Note: This is part six of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

There's only one word that isn't clear in this letter. It is clear that Dora's life is unravelling...
It's not dated but I believe it's from September 1938.

*** Beata Gulati has supplied some very interesting suggestions to explain the problematic bits of Dora’s previous letter. You can find them at the bottom of the previous post.

“Dear Sister,

Really there passed a long time since I got from you a letter and a post cart but till today I had not find time to answer you. When a man has troubles and is not contented from the circumstances he forgets from all. Now when the father writes you a letter I wish also to answer you.

Thank you very much for the pictures, I was very happy with them. I showed them to my friends and they did not believe I have such beautiful sister. You look very fine and young. Your cart from your vacation I got also and thank you a second time.
About me I have none interesting things to write. My vacation I spent in Brest. I can not leave the house because my mother is ill. All my friends went to Warsaw to study farther in the university. They study all English because here in Warsaw you are not accepted in medicine, stuiathology (??? see below) or other, only in humanistic  it means to learn languages. I remain here and till today I do nothing because they are not yet accept to Jews and I am without working.
The wintertime is nearand there comes new troubles. Till the time that I was a pupil in school I did not need much money for dresses et cetera… But now I must dress myself better and in my present conditions it is difficult because I can not take all from the father. My mother is ill so what we must spend money on physicians and medicine. That’s about me.

unknown subject at Univ
unknown subject at Univ

From Palestine we have none letter. We hear very bad news from here (there?), this also brings new troubles.

I write you enough not necessary things, excuse me for this, but sometimes a man must tell a little to the other.

Perhaps have you better news?”

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? Crowdsourcing Q.4

We can only see reflections of the girl who once was... (Naomi's Photos)
We can only see reflections of the girl who once was…
(Naomi’s Photos)

Note: This is part five of a new Saturday series, in which I, with crowdsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unknown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

Today’s letter is not dated, but it must have been written in November 1937, since Dora writes that she will graduate in six months. We know from the first letter that I posted that she graduated in May 1938.

In this letter it is clear that Dora was not very impressed with the manners of an American visitor, an American who was once a townsman… The letter is torn in places. Any thoughts as to what the missing words may have been are appreciated. There are also two words I cannot make out. As always, I have not changed grammar or spelling.

“Dear Libby,

There passed already a long time that did not write to you anything. I am very busy, many times I sit till twelve and one o’clock in the night and learn. I finish this year the school and I must get a maturity test (called here matura). It is very difficult, because I shall be asked __________ (missing word) a ???? ( word I can’t make out) which consisted of not y________ (only the first letter of missing word remains) so that it is difficult to get such _______________ (missing).

rude american 1

 

You asked me in your letter if I wish really come to America. I can say that this American who was with us summer is a very silly man if he thought about this seriously. He saw that my mother is a sick woman, so that I can not leave the house. I am not yet in such bad conditions here in Poland.

Missing piece

…as beggars. We accepted him as a friend who came after 24 years from America. I don’t know if he did not see a more beautiful house in America, he thought that we are very rich. He is a great “sow” called commonly, for instance, he was ___________ (torn) with us and not leave for our house girl who served him a  ????? (can’t make out). The Europians are more cultured and with better characters than in America. I cannot imagine that a man who was 24 years in America can behave himself so that he did.  He does not write even to us. It will be enough about him. It will be very tedious ________________ (torn bit) you will certainly think  _______________ (torn bit) myself a great “sow”, perhaps the American understand such the thing.

rude american 2

Write me more, not so as I to you because you must understand that I have not free time on the second year. After 6 months I shall write to  you more, it will be after the examine.

Good by,

Yours sincerely.

Dvora”

Here are possible explanations, thank to Beata Gulati!

I think that in the first part I shall be asked by a commision (the board of examiners) which consisted of not (probably) your teachers??? usually Matura exam cant be taken in a presence of teachers who taught you but independent teachers ( from other classes who do not know you) the examiner has to be neutral

and in the second part we usually call someone who is not kind to us who behaves rudely and sometimes unfairly we call such a person “Świnia” which means “pig” (I believe that she found the name sow for a female pig and he didn’t give to a house girl (house maid) who served him a penny. It is a kind of grattude to the “servants” to give them tips, but he didn’t give a penny

Saturday’s Mystery: Who Were You, Dora? A Few Answers

Dora 1935
Dora 1935

Note: This is part four of a new Saturday series, in which I, with croudsourcing help, try to unravel the mysteries hidden in previously unkown letters written by my mysterious step-great aunt Dvora /Dora before and during WWll in Poland. For further explanations see previous post.

In the first three posts I asked the readers several questions that have come up so far when closely reading Dora’s lettters. I’m delighted to report that I received answers! Many thanks to Laura Green, Sandy Millin, Dorit Renov and Beata Gulati for their help. Special thanks to Beata who has wholeheartedly taken up this project!

First of all, I realize I should clarify exactly where Dora lived. I understand that there are places with similar names and spellings, not to mention the borders that were redrawn. The letters quoted in this post were sent from Brest in what used to be Poland. Today it is in Belarus (see map). This much information  I have known since childhoold, since that is where my own grandmother grew up. The letters I have are without envelopes, so I have no address. However, it seems that Dora wrote some of the letters on stationery from her father’s workplace. Their logo includes an address. Beata looked into locating this address. Street names have changed and Google maps does not help here. However, Beata’s following explanation has led to a little story I had never heard:

 

“Brześć n/B is on the river Bug in Polish n-for “nad” and “B” Bug the name of the river where Brest is situated :)))”

I asked my mother if her mother had ever mentioned a river in her tales. “Oh yes!” my mother said. “The river Pok. She grew up by the river Pok. She used to say that the reason they ate so much carp fish in those days was because the river was full of the fish and it was cheap”! I had never heard this story before!

Dora wrote that she took her matriculation examinations (“Matura” exams) in May 1938. I asked if it was safe to assume that Dora was born in 1920 in light of that information. Beata has located an example of a graduation certificate from the same year awarded to someone who was born in 1920 and heard from people that in those days people graduated at 18, so I believe this is a very reasonable assumption.

I was unable to make out the letters of the name of the “healthing place” Dora went to on her summer vacation. Everyone has agreed that she must have gone to the spa town Busko-Zdrój .

I also was unable to figure out what word Dora had written because it never occured to me that she might have begun a sentence with the word “much”. Beata explains:  “…those letters are written straight from the heart of Polish girl and just translated into English but the way of thinking is Polish. So it is not Blush or Hush it is “Much I can not write you” in the meaning I can not write too much because I am busy with my Matura exam.”

This post is quite long so I will begin the next letter next week. I will just tell you that it is undated but seems to be from late 1937 or early 1938.  A visitor from America makes an appearance and the letter is torn in places, resulting in missing words…