Sunday, October 28, 2018

Pittsburgh's Jewish Community & HIAS

I had a post on a genealogy success story nearly completed, and I was planning to finish it today.  But in light of what happened in Pittsburgh yesterday, that post will wait.

I would not be here today if it weren't for the Pittsburgh Jewish Community (on my mother's side) and HIAS (on my father's).

My mother's parents were born in Pennsylvania.  My maternal grandfather was born in and grew up in Pittsburgh; both of his parents, all four of his great grandparents, and one of his great-great grandmothers emigrated to Pittsburgh.  My maternal grandmother's parents emigrated to nearby McKeesport, where my grandmother was born.

My grandfather's family was very involved with Pittsburgh's Jewish Community.  My great grandfather was president of Pittsburgh's Shpikover Society, and my grandfather's whole family was very involved in Pittsburgh's Keser Torah Congregation.
Keser Torah Silver Anniversary Committee (1935), Pittsburgh, PA
(My great grandfather is second from the left in the back row)

I have family and friends who still live in the Pittsburgh area, including in Squirrel Hill.  I stayed with cousins in Squirrel Hill in May when I spoke to the Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh and went to a synagogue just a few blocks from Tree of Life.  Squirrel Hill has a vibrant Jewish community with multiple synagogues; there are also people of many other faiths who live side-by-side in the neighborhood.

The Pittsburgh shooter was apparently obsessed with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

My father's parents were both born in Poland (modern-day Ukraine) and survived the Holocaust along with my grandmother's mother.  After the war, the ended up in a Displaced Person's camp near Munich.  They were brought to America with the help of HIAS.  HIAS helped with the paperwork and provided affidavits asserting that they would ensure that my grandparents and great grandmother would not become a burden on society, which is why my family was allowed to come to America.
HIAS letter about my family
HIAS spent the better part of two years working with cousins already in America to get the documentation for my grandparents and great grandmother together to enable their emigration.  I wrote about that (here, here and here).

HIAS still works to help refugees.  Their website says "one of the nine national refugee resettlement agencies, HIAS partners with the United States government to resettle refugees as part of the U.S. refugee admissions program."  They continue to help refugees today, just as they did my grandparents and great grandmother in the 1940s.

As a genealogist, I've seen what happens when you categorize entire groups of people as "other."  Here's this year's list of my family members who were killed in the Holocaust.  And there will be more posted on the next Holocaust Memorial Day.

Everyone needs to learn from the evil that has happened in the past--and to stop that from happening again.  Genealogists can feel these things  more personally, because we see how our ancestors have gone through things which are being repeated today.

I don't know what else to say (which is unusual for me), so I'm just going to post this as is.  We are all Pittsburgh.

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  1. My heart goes out to you Laura. I met you at the conference but you likely would not remember me. Now I read your connection to Squirrel Hill and want to send you compassion for the hurt in your heart and all those who are affected. HIAS is to be congratulated for all they do, unlike the murderous act of the perpetrator and all he TOOK away! Sue Diamond