"...Therefore, we ask you to put yourself in our position, and to do your best to search and find our relatives because we do not have their addresses. As you know, the War started long ago and we have not heard from them for a long time. Therefore, we do not have their address... Therefore, search for them and tell them about us and our condition. I suppose you heard what happened here... And when God will help, after we will be together, we will thank you for it and pay your doublely... When you find them, tell them to have pity on us and to help us and to send us money. Do like other people who come from America and take their relatives and send affidavits for nine people for us and our children." (names, ages follow)
Translation of enclosed Yiddish letter indicated in red ink. (from passport application, December 1920.)
"December 13, 1920.
The Secretary of State
Department of State
Attached to this application you will find a Yiddish letter written by Beile Mul, my cousin, addressed to Ethel Alter, of 616 Williams Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, for transmission to me, because my address was not known to my relatives there.
This letter speaks for itself and will indicate the correct reason why I am applying now to go to Roumania. The reason is that I have in Roumania my grandfather, uncles, cousins, nieces and other relatives, who are now in terrible straits. My family has made up its mind for me to proceed immediately to Roumania, while conditions are still tolerable, for the purpose of assisting our relatives there and to bring some of them to the United States, at the first opportunity.
Please, therefore, grant me this passport, to enable me to proceed to Roumania to assist my immediate relatives there.
Very respectfully yours,
282 Riverdale Avenue
Brooklyn, New York
I started writing this post at 6am. I awoke with the title in my head, which I'll explain later.
I've been spending the past couple of days down with my parents and my grandmother, where an unexpected and fascinating journey through the past awaited us.
In my father's inbox were three emails, forwarded by my uncle, who has just gotten bit by the genealogy bug and has started doing some research. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, he and a new-found cousin (second cousin, once removed) found a passport application and other documentation related to our past relatives, but right now I'm focused on the man in the passport image, Nathan Lutzky. This may be the only surviving photo of him.
I don't know about how it is in your family, but in ours, little to nothing is really known about anyone. Either people didn't care to remember very sad and difficult times, or no one bothered to record it, so the memories are quickly becoming scattered to the ages, to be lost forever.
The little I had heard about Nathan, who was my mother's grandfather on her father's side, is that he was a furrier, lived in Brooklyn, and died trying to smuggle weapons into Russia, where he was shot and died of his wounds, leaving behind a widow with four tiny children to support.
From the documents my uncle received, it looks like we have a little bit more to the story. Up until now, we didn't even know where he was born or where he lived in New York. But now in an instant, a life becomes real, one long since gone. Now we know that he was born in Russia (Lisanka, which could also be spelled Lysyanska, and is in the Ukraine) on December 15, 1884 and he emigrated to America from Hamburg, Germany about February 5, 1904 and lived for 16 years in Hartford, Connecticut. He was naturalized as an American citizen on August 9, 1910 and had never returned to Europe after he arrived in America.
As you can see from the excerpted first letter, a cry for help from surviving relatives made him petition to return to Romania to come to their aid, and to help them escape and find safety in America.
Although I don't know the details (yet, if they exist) of that journey, I do know the outcome. Nathan Lutzky was granted his passport, and he left his wife and four small children and his furrier business in Brooklyn to return to his endangered extended family. Somewhere along the line, events took a turn for the worse. He was apprehended by the Russian government and sent to Siberia, to prison.
He contracted pneumonia there and was returned home, to New York, to die. The State of New York's Department of Health records his death on April 2, 1924. Nathan was 40 years old.
I woke up thinking about Nathan and Siberia and Sidney Reilly, the world's first modern spy and possible model for the James Bond character many years later (because even in sleep, my mind is obviously making strange connections). Reilly was about 11 years older than Nathan, but they were both sent to Siberia at the same time. What if they had known each other or their paths had crossed in a Siberian labor camp? But if not, they met the same fate. At least Nathan was returned home to die, whereas the final resting place of Reilly's remains is still disputed.
I'm amazed and fascinated by stories of both Sidney and Nathan, although now I want to know more about what happened to Nathan, if I'll ever find out. All of a sudden, this intricate family puzzle has been laid before us. Who knows how many pieces we'll be able to find?