Jean-Pierre Stroweis found my father and brought him back to me.
My father, Samuel (Shmuel) Weisbrot, was born in Staszow, Poland, date of birth uncertain, and died in Toronto, Canada, in 1978. While searching for the civil records of my father’s birth, I contacted Jean-Pierre Stroweis, Staszow Town Leader for Jewish Records Indexing – Poland. (jri-poland.org)
I soon received this message from Stroweis: “I am attaching here the scanned picture of the 1904 birth record of Samuil/Szmul, son of Izrael Wajsbrod/Wajsbrot, and Rajzel/Rajzla, nee Wajnberg. The Akta is signed by the clerk of the municipality and by two Jewish witnesses. One of the witnesses is a relative of mine, Aron Sztrowajs, so our family continues to take care of your ancestry!”
I examined the document with my father’s name, originally written in Russian Cyrillic letters, and then translated into English.
Imagine this: I felt as though my father were alive again, as though we were together again, somewhere in time.
IT WAS Dr. Passi Rosen-Bayewitz who suggested I contact Stroweis. In 2021, Rosen-Bayewitz completed a doctoral dissertation at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, titled, The Story of Jewish Staszow: Its History, Memory, and Representation, 1525-2021, dedicated to the story of the town of Staszow.
How do we keep the history and memory of six million murdered people alive?
The answer is with the determination of Stroweis, a memory agent dedicated to discovering, identifying, documenting, and affirming the eternal existence, not only of the Jews of the shtetl, the community, and of Staszow, but of the thousands of vanished Jewish communities spread out through Europe, and around the Mediterranean Basin.
The designation as memory agent “underscores the importance of agency in sustaining, preserving, and transmitting memory,” writes Rosen-Bayewitz in The Story of Jewish Staszow.
Stroweis is an IT innovator, researcher, genealogist, writer, and lecturer. He is also project coordinator of the translation of Sefer Staszow, The Staszow Book (Tel Aviv, 1962), from Hebrew and Yiddish to English.
“His knowledge and expertise in software engineering, combined with a zeal to identify missing puzzles, an impressive work ethic, and a passion to repair the world, led him to acquire advanced genealogical skills,” emphasizes Rosen-Bayewitz.
About his life, Stroweis remarks, “Ten years after the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto in August 1943, and five years after the creation of the State of Israel, I was born in Paris.”
Through his research, he discovered his own roots in Staszow where his great-grandfather was born. His grandfather was born in nearby Chmielnik, Poland, raised in Lodz, and moved to Paris in 1910.
“When I look back at my history,” says Stroweis, “this decision of my grandfather to leave Poland for France is the reason why I am alive. Eight of his nine siblings who stayed in Poland were murdered in the Holocaust, and one sister, hiding in Warsaw, survived.”
During World War II, his father, Jerome Stroweis, an engineer, became a commander of the F2, an intelligence network operating mainly in southern France, and he survived. His mother, Nachama Resnik, was born in Kyiv, Ukraine. Her family escaped the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), wandered through Europe, Poland, Germany, and Italy, for eight years, and settled in France in 1925.
“Even with little schooling, my mother learned four languages, Russian, Polish, German, and French. Between 1941 and 1944, she was saved by her Christian employer and his wife, who provided her with a false identity and found a place for her to hide in downtown Paris. After the war, they helped her obtain French citizenship.”
In 2002, Stroweis arranged for the couple, Maurice and Louise Marandet, to be honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.
“Until age 25, I didn’t even know the names of my mother’s parents,” he says. “My mother wouldn’t talk about her family or what happened to her during the war. It was too painful. I was born in a place where my identity was not very clear. I was a Jew from nowhere. I was a French student. That was my identity.”
Joining a Zionist movement after the Holocaust
CONNECTING WITH his past, he joined a Zionist movement where he met Isabelle, his wife. On October 3, 1980, three weeks before they were supposed to get married in the Rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris, there was a terrorist attack outside the synagogue. A bomb exploded, killing four people and wounding 46.
In fact, they were married in the Rue Copernic Synagogue, and a year later, they moved to Jerusalem. “It made sense to us that our place is in Israel.”
A software engineer, Stroweis worked for a Defence company in Israel. An important episode in his life was in 1986 when he was sent to work in Seattle, US, for the Boeing Company. At that time, there was an awakening among American Jewry of an interest in genealogy. He remembers reading many significant books, one in particular, From Generation to Generation, How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Personal History, (Arthur Kurzweil, 1980).
This inspired him to collect historical facts from his parents and create a family tree. Returning to Israel, Stroweis joined the local Israel Genealogical Society (IGS), and served as president for a few years. He is a board member of the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) and also a committee member of the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy (IIJG).
Stroweis lectures in Israel and at international conferences. In his talks and articles, he emphasizes the significance of reconstructing one’s personal identity and transmitting this story to the next generation.
With his expertise in information technology, he correlated the inscriptions on discovered Jewish Staszow tombstones with death records, and was able to identify surnames of the deceased.
Dluga Street 6, Staszow. Stroweis also developed an interactive, digital map of Jewish presence in Staszow in the 1930s. Using this map, I was able to find Dluga Street 6, my father’s address, and I can imagine the life it held.
In 2007, Stroweis achieved the Israel Genealogical Society’s highest award in recognition of his dedication as past president, his role as Staszow Town Leader for JRI-Poland since 1996, and his contribution as co-chair of the 2004 international conference held in Jerusalem, “by working his magic to make the database work smoothly, and by always being available to help other researchers with his vast professional knowledge and skills.” (isragen.org.il)
As Stroweis says, “JRI-Poland is a treasure trove for whoever wants to reconstruct his/her ancestry. The essential task is to index – to read, interpret, transliterate and write into digital form the content of surviving records.”
The information is there waiting to be uncovered. A confirmation of antecedents and descendants across time and place.
IN 1978, RENOWNED Nazi hunters and activists Serge and Beate Klarsfeld published Le Mémorial de la Déportation des Juifs de France, Memorial to the Jews Deported from France, 1942-1944: Documentation of the deportation of the victims of the Final Solution in France.
As a volunteer, through his extraordinary efforts, Stroweis digitized the work of Klarsfeld. In 2022, at the 42nd conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), Jean-Pierre Stroweis received the award for Outstanding Project for his meticulous work on the database of the 80,000 French Holocaust victims deported from France or murdered there.
The award states, “For the past several years, Jean-Pierre has worked tirelessly to not only convert Serge Klarsfeld’s memorial books into a searchable tool, but also to correct errors and missing details based on his own research. His database links each victim’s name to other websites containing additional information pertaining to that individual, making it easier for researchers to find a relative in a range of sources via a single search.” (stevemorse.org/france)
Power of a name
For each of us, a name evokes a personal, emotional response.
My cousin Eva Nisencwajg Bergstein (my father’s niece) and her uncle Henryk were the only family survivors left in Poland after the liberation. When her uncle went to Staszow to search for relatives, he found no one. In a notebook he gave her, there is a message he wrote in Polish:
“Ewuniu! From our family, there is only our name Nisencwajg here in Poland. This is the truth – no one is left. Hold high and with pride this name, this will remain your fate, your culture. Uncle Henryk Nisencwajg, Krakow, 1946.”
Jean-Pierre Stroweis reflects, “For the Jewish people, the 20th century will remain as a period of unequaled destruction, expulsions, migrations and reconstruction on different continents and languages. Preserving our individual and collective historical track restores some continuity, and pays tribute to the generations that preceded us. It is tikkun olam, repairing the world.” ■
Jean-Pierre Stroweis From Paris to Jerusalem, 1981