About half of my ancestors lived for many generations in and around Poznan, Poland, that was called Posen, and was part of Prussia (and hence Germany) between 1793 and 1918 (except for a Napoleonic interuption between 1807 and 1815). For example, my maternal grandfather, Paul Alexander(1870-1942) who was born in Tirschtiegel, Posen (today Trzciel, near Poznan). Also my great-grandparents (Paul's parents) Solomon Alexander(?-1913) and his wife Rebeke Pinner Alexander (1835-1913) (who was born in Bombst (today Babimost)) and my other great-grandfather Adolf Pinner(1842-1909), who was born in Wronke, now Wronki, and so on for many generations.
I was hoping, one day, to make a pilgrimage to these places, but kept putting it off.
Then a golden opportunity arose. I was invited to attend a very interesting mathematics conference called Random Structures and Algorithms, that was to take place, Aug. 6-11, 2001, in Poznan. Here came the opportunity to explore my Poznan roots. However, not knowing a word of Polish, the prospect of visiting these little towns by myself, and not being able to inquire about synagogues and cemeteries, seemed less than optimal. Luckily, thanks to the wonders of the internet, this problem was soon solved. Using my favorite search-engine, Google, I searched for "Posen+Jewish", and one of the first sites to appear was the attractively designed and beautifully written site "Discovering Roots Society Poznan".
I wrote E-mail to the contact person, Katarzyna GRYCZA ("Kasia") (firstname.lastname@example.org), and expressed my great interest in exploring my roots on Aug. 3, 2001. She promptly replied that she could do it, and informed me about their very reasonable fees.
I arrived at Poznan airport around 1:00 p.m., Aug. 2, 2001. I took a taxi to the conference hotel, TRAWINSKI, a surprisingly luxurious hotel. I asked the front desk for a map of Poznan, and immediately went on a random walk to the old city. The "Old market", STARY RYNEK, is very colorful, and I had no trouble finding the indoor swimming pool (closed for the summer) that is called "PLYWALNIA MIEJSKA". Its address is: FUNDACJA W.S.S. UL. WRONIECKA 11 (Poznan, Poland). This swimming pool used to serve another purpose until 1940. It was the "Great Synagogue", built in 1906. During the Nazi occupation, it was converted to a swimming pool, and unfortunately is still used as such. Not far from there, in a parking lot on ul. DOMINIKANSKA, used to stand the old "Beth Midrash", built in 1829. It was donated by my GGGGGrandfather Salomon Benjamin LATZ. One of the streets nearby is called "ul. ZYDOWSKA" ("street of the Jews").
The next day. Friday, Aug. 3, 2001, I waited for Kasia Grycza in the hotel lobby, as we agreed, and she came right on time, 9:00 a.m.. She is very charming and friendly, and extremely competent. She has a master's degree in tourism, and is very passionate about genealogy, and in addition to conducting tours, does genealogical research in the Polish State archives for many people from whole over the world, including Israel and Australia.
Our first stop was going to be PNIEWY (PINNE in German), from where the Pinner family originated, and got its name. Next we planned to go to WRONKI, that during the German rule was called WRONKE. This is where my great-grandfather, Adolf PINNER, was born in 1842, and where my great-great-grandfather, Lewin Aron PINNER, served as Rabbi between 1840 until his death in 1877. This was to be followed by BIRNBAUM (today MIEDZYCHOD), where Rabbi Lewin Aron PINNER was born in 1799, and the last town we planned to visit was TRZCIEL (Tirschtiegel in German), where my grandfather, Paul ALEXANDER was born in 1870.
While driving, Kasia told me that "Birnbaum" means "pear tree", and according to legend, there was a pear-tree where the local fishermen used to hang their nets. The Polish name, MIEDZYCHOD means "between waters", and indeed the town is situated between the WARTA river and a lake. She also told me that in 1650, half of the population of Wronki was Jewish, and that "PNIEW" means tree-trunk, and that PINNE is just a German phonetic rendition of PNIEWY. The name may refer to a settlement surrounded by tree trunks.
Kasia stopped the car so that I can take a photo of the PNIEWY sign indicating that we just entered it. Kasia asked the friendly local people where the synagogue was, and they pointed us to the movie theater "KINO SLONCE" (SUN).
The distance from PNIEWY to WRONKI is 24 kilometers. We followed the railway track. According to Kasia, Wronki was served by train as early as 1848. So this explains how my ancestors moved around so much. Wronki now has 11,100 inhabitants, and is dominated by the AMICA factory, that also sponsors the local famed soccer team.
We parked in the market-place of Wronki, and asked about the synagogue. It is now an appliance store with RTV and MARS signs displayed. Its address is 1 KRETA (pronounced KRENTA). Then we went down to the beautiful WARTA river, and I took a picture of a horse-drawn wagon. It looked very much as it did a hundred and fifty years ago, when my great-grandfather Adolf (who was then called Aron) was a child.
Our next goal was to find the cemetery. We were first mistakenly lead to the site of the Protestant cemetery, but then a friendly passerby, STEFAN BIALEK, born 1930, pointed us in the right direction. He said that there were two "CIEMENTA JADOWSKI"s (Jewish cemeteries). One was called BOREK ("wood"), and the other SAMODZ ("over the bridge"). We went to BOREK, that is indeed in a wood, and is situated between the Wronki prison (called "The University" by the townspeople) and the AMICA plant. It is right after the house whose address is MICKIEWICZA 40. By the way, the prison had some famous inmates, including Rosa Luxemburg, in 1916. Between the world wars it had many political prisoners. That may explain why it is nicknamed "The University" by the local people.
Now it was time for lunch. We ate in a restaurant called BOROWIANKA. During lunch, Kasia recommended the book "ZYDZI W WIELKOPLOSCE NA PRZESTRZENI DZIEJOW", edited by J. Topolskiegi and K. Modelskiego, and published by "Wydawnictwi Poznanskie". The title's translation is: "Jews in Great Poland throughout the ages". According to this book, in the 17th century there were 35 households, a school, a synagogue, and the total amount of tax paid by the Jews was 150 zl. After the Swedish invasion of 1658, the Jewish population declined to 18 households.
Across the street from the restaurant is the local post office, where I bought WRONKI postcards, that I mailed back home, and to my beloved Aunt from Jerusalem, Brigitte (b. Alexander) Weiss, who is the only surviving granddaughter of my Wronki-born great-grandfather Adolf Pinner.
We then continued to MIEDZYCHOD. Kasia told me that today the town is famous for its jam, so we stopped in a local grocery store to buy a jar of MIEDZYCHOD jam. Kasia's aunt recommended that we call on ANTONI TACZANOWSKI the director of the town's DOM KULTURY (Cultural Dept.), who knows more than anybody else about his town's history. We were not disappointed. Mr. TACZANOWSKI told us lots of fascinating stories. It is amazing how a such a small Jewish community, consisting of roughly 60 households, can produce so many accomplished people. Amongst them was Oskar Tietz, the department store king, whose grandson, Herman Tietz lives today in New York. Oskar Tietz is still remembered fondly, since in 1910 he donated money for a promenade around the lake, and for other causes. Another famous son is Lesser URY, who was born in Birnbaum in 1861, and died in Berlin in 1931. Son of a Jewish baker, he was one of the greatest painters in Germany in the 1920s. Antoni showed us a very interesting book, in German, about Lesser URY, by Herman A. Schloegl. Another family from Birnbaum, who made it big, is the STRITCH family, now in California. I told Antoni that he should also be proud of my relative Georg PINNER, who changed his name to HEINZ HERALD. He was third-cousin of my grandmother, and co-won the 1937 academy award for best adapted screen-writing (for the movie "Life of Emil Zola").
According to Antoni, only two Jewish families were left in MIEDZYCHOD after World War I, and most of them moved to Berlin. The synagogue was sold to the Red Cross in 1924, and now it is used as doctor's office. Its address is: 17 STYCZWIA no. 72., MIEDZYCHOD, Poland.
We left Miedzychod at 4:51 p.m., and started our drive to the last stop, TRZCIEL (Tirschtiegel). The synagogue now houses the fire-brigade. It is located between houses number 2 and 4 of ul. POZNANSKA. TRZCIEL's has currently 2500 inhabitants.
What makes TRZCIEL very special is that its Jewish cemetery was preserved, complete with gravestones. Most of the Jewish cemeteries in the former Duchy of Posen (Province of Poznan) were completely destroyed. The cemetery is near the "Jewish Lake", and is about 1 km from the beginning of the road to Jablonka. There is a very clear sign in three languages: "Cmentarz Zydowski", "Juedischer Friedhof", and "bet kvarot yehudi" (in Hebrew letters). The gravestones are very legible. Some of the names are: Miriam Segal, Emma Zirker, Cecilie Bein, Max Goldstein, Hirsch Berr, Sara Cohn geb. Krause, Moses Raphael, Aron Boas, Wolf Krause, Joel Wolf Brin, Hirsch Lippmann, Itzig Cohn, Wolf Aron Berr, Louis Grafenhagen, Wolf Weich, Moritz Wolff, Indel Wallach, Jocheved Boas, Flora Friedlander, and many others.
I could not find any graves of ALEXANDER, but my great-grandfather's family only moved there, probably from Graetz, and then moved to Leipzig.
It was a very moving experience, made possible by Kasia GRYCZA's competent and friendly guidance. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMEND THE SERVICES OF KASIA GRYCZA and her "Discovering Roots Society Poznan".
Postscipt: When I gave my talk, on Aug. 6, 2001, I mentioned my adventures in tracing my Poznan roots, and displayed my ancestors' tree. One of the conference's organizers, Professor Tomasz Luczak, kindly offered to call the publisher to enquire about the above-mentioned book "ZYDZI W WIELKOPLOSCE NA PRZESTRZENI DZIEJOW". It turned out to be out of print, but the publisher had one copy left. Tomasz's secretary kindly went specially to fetch the book. I was very touched by this gesture of Tomasz and his secretary. This book is especially nice, since its cover has a photo of the Poznan great synagogue during its hey days, when it was a really beautiful building.