Sixty years later, technology triumphs over evil

Sixty years later, technology triumphs over evil

Summary: I was reading Dan Farber's post this morning and was struck by the first line that juxtaposed the title of the Churchill Club panel session he attended -- "Masters of Cybercrime: The Ultimate Battle of Good and Evil" -- against the panelists' consensus on how good is actually faring against evil in that battle.  Apparently, it's losing.

TOPICS: Data Management

I was reading Dan Farber's post this morning and was struck by the first line that juxtaposed the title of the Churchill Club panel session he attended -- "Masters of Cybercrime: The Ultimate Battle of Good and Evil" -- against the panelists' consensus on how good is actually faring against evil in that battle.  Apparently, it's losing.  In memory of a horrific day 62 years ago today -- June 6, 1943 -- and in the face of such bad news about good, evil, and technology, I thought it would be appropriate to counterbalance those findings with a personal account that's a bit more uplifting -- one where, 62 years later,  technology is triumphing over evil.

It started rather innocently.  "Dad, I need to write a few paragraphs on where my family comes from."  When my then 13 year-old son asked me that question last year, all I could tell him was that he's Russian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Polish.  Beyond that, I had no details. But four words would not suffice for an essay on one's heritage and thus, a personal genealogical project was born.  After 72 hours of on-line database searches, interviews of family members, inspection of images of physical documents, and numerous e-mail exchanges with knowledgeable third parties, I had 90 percent of my grandmother's "branch" of the family tree completed dating back to the late 1800s.  The Kleinosphere, as I've come to dub the Klein branch of my family, hails from the old Galician town of Podhajce. Today, Podhajce is in the Ukraine.  But, over the years, it has been a part of Russia, Poland, and Austria.

Although my heritage is Jewish, I am not a practicing Jew. But for any person of Jewish descent to attempt an exploration of his or her genealogy, it is impossible for the project not to turn into an exploration of his or her Jewish heritage as well.   Among the documents and history books that tell the story of shtetls like Podhajce, perhaps none are more detailed or significant than Yizkor books.  According to the National Yiddish Book Center,  "Yizkor (memorial) books are a crucial source for research in East European Jewish history, Holocaust studies, and Jewish genealogy. Written in Yiddish or Hebrew or both, most titles include extensive documentation of Jewish life before the war, followed by vivid, first-hand accounts of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Visually, most of the books are extremely rich, featuring detailed maps, photographs and illustrations. Many titles include necrologies – lists of those who died – which make these books especially valuable for genealogical research." 

Blogs and wikis had their precedents
I'm sure there are other precedents to blogs and wikis, but Yizkor books strike me as an irrefutable proof-point of the power of citizen's journalism and wiki-like collaboration.  In his introduction to the Yizkor book about life in Jewish Podhajce, M. Sh. Geshuri wrote "A common principal in Yizkor Books is that they are written by people whose profession is not the pen."  Sound familiar? Geshuri continued,  "It is only the feeling of obligation and responsibility to perpetuate their city, so that it will not disappear and be silenced with the passing of the last of this generation that imposed upon them the challenge to take the writer's quill into their non-professional hands."  In the spirit of transparency and credibility, Geshuri, who edited the book, even admits to another principle of the blogosphere and the Creative Commons copyright: the remix (with full and eloquent disclosure). Wrote Geshuri, "I succeeded in finding the sources that made it possible for me to edit the time-line, to discover the names of rabbis and scholars who lived in Podhajce. Had I not revived them and placed them into the book, they would have been consigned to oblivion."

Take note if you're a blogger. To the extent that these freely re-publishable and obviously re-mixable citizen-written accounts of life in the shtetl are rife with names of, and stories about, the townspeople, there are millions of people today that would know little of their ancestry had it not been for these Yizkor books.  If you're blogging, you could be creating personal accounts of history that, decades from now could end up in the remix (if you publish under the Creative Commons license) and centuries from now, might be the primary source of information for some future 13-year-old middle school student who is writing about his or her heritage.

As I came to learn, it was around the turn of the century that my great grandfather Abraham and all but one of his siblings had the courage and prescience to uproot themselves from the Jewish shtetl of Podhajce (that many generations of Kleins before them called home) to seek a better life in America.  They didn't all come together.  First, just prior to World War One (as best as I can tell), one scouted the situation out and found a home (most likely with a Galician friend or cousin or other relative).  Then, in what became a tradition of hospitality for many immigrants, the rest followed (some after the war), packing themselves into one New York City dwelling until they were able to establish their independence.  The spirit of the Spanish phrase Mi Casa, Su Casa -- My House [is] your house -- comes to mind.  It was the ethos of hospitality among all Jewish emigres (as I'm sure it was with immigrants of countless other nationalities). 

So you think you're facing adversity in your life? Imagine what it must be like to leave everything you know behind.  Little did the siblings know of what lay ahead (the Holocaust). If they had dreams of family members traveling back and forth between Podhajce and New York in hopes of keeping the family together, those dreams would be torpedoed.  Eventually, in the 1950s,  the siblings, along with other emigres from Podhajce, would take solace in the formation of an organization -- the Young Men of Podhajce Benevolent Association (aka the Sons of Podhajce) -- in order to help maintain the unity of their community and preserve its traditions.

Enough of my family members are around today to piece together the family tree that surrounds the Klein siblings who moved from Podhajce. But there was a hole that surrounded the sibling -- a sister -- who stayed behind. From what scant records were available and what family members thought her name was, I could only make guesses at the identity of a long lost aunt. I had some information to go on, though.  She wasn't just lost. As best as I could tell from the stories handed down by family members, she, along with her husband and her children were executed at gunpoint.  Through the Internet, I learned of the fateful day -- June 6, 1943 -- when the Jews who remained in the Podhajce Ghetto, the ones who were not sent to a death camp in Belzec, were, in a final liquidation, shot to death and buried in  mass graves outside the town. But one of the children -- a man named Isaac -- escaped to France, hid from the Nazis, married a Frenchwoman, and had two daughters.

Through two wars, the binds that tied our family together across the Atlantic Ocean were reduced to strands. Strands that decades later have dissolved into the salt water and the time that separates my family from its past. Hitler may not have been successful at wiping out all the Jews, but sixty years later, many families --including mine --  remain deprived of their both their heritage and their relatives. As I interviewed other family members, I heard one request over and over: "If you find the girls, please let us know." 

Enter the Internet.

It's been almost a year since that 72-hour quest began.  Since then, work (the blogosphere) and family, including a new daughter of my own, have filled my schedule to the point that the search for the missing girls and any descendants of theirs had to be moved to the back burner. But I put my name on a distribution list for updates on any new information from the Podhajce era. Occasionally, I'd get an e-mail with some links, but nothing was filling the hole in my family tree. And then, it happened. After receiving another update, I followed the links to a database where I could enter my name in as someone who was searching for relatives by specific last names.  The database apparently existed last year, but somehow, I overlooked it.  Not only could I list myself in the database as a researcher of certain surnames, I could see who else had listed themselves, and the surnames they were researching. I searched the database on two key surnames -- the girls' mother's maiden name (Klein) and their father's surname --  and in both cases, the same researcher's name popped up on my screen.  Someone else -- someone by the name of Isaac -- was also interested in the same two surnames that I was. Jews often name their children after their parents (in other words, the same names are used every other generation). Could this Isaac be the grandson of the Isaac who escaped to France?, I wondered.  If he is, then that would mean he is also the son of one of the missing daughters.  His last name was French.  But the contact information was old.  So, I Googled his name and was lucky enough to locate his current e-mail address.  

Coincidence? Not. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be him and to find out in one e-mail that dozens of family members have been looking for you and your parents for decades? Two more e-mails later and the hole in the tree is now filled-in with exacting data. The missing girls are alive and well in France and, while no flights or phone calls have yet been booked or made, rest assured it's only a matter of time.  Hitler's vision stretched the fabric of my family to its limits, but could not destroy it.  Now, thanks to technology, that fabric is being restored, never to be reduced to strands again. Said Isaac in his e-mail to me "In some sense, I'd like to believe that it is a small victory over the forces of evil that tried to separate and exterminate families in World War II." Yeah. What he said.  And then some.

Topic: Data Management

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  • Congratulations!

    Lives part when people move to different countries under any circumstances. I hope that when you complete the story you will describe how a true family connection was re-established. That will enhance the victory already achieved.
    Anton Philidor
  • Thanks

    This article is a ray of hope in an ambiguous world. Thanks for bringing into sharp focus the nature of true evil, and for showing how the human spirit can prevail. Good luck in your continuing efforts.

    Carl Rapson
  • Random thoughts

    Interesting tie-in to technology trends.

    However, I shudder at your statement that current day blogs MAY take on the role that Yizkor books serve, and that the future may hold current blogs as the key to the past. Most current blogs are pure crap, and those that are entertaining are usually far removed from reality - thus their entertainment value. I blog on car mods, politics, social commentary - whatever strikes me. I have fun doing it, but would in no way want those to become part of some official record of history. Not that everyone shouldn't have a chance to add to the pot, but it also shouldn't be assumed that the pot will hold nothing but gems.

    I hope future generations can some how harvest the worthwhile content from the vast pool of muck the blogsphere has become.
    • Future history

      I recall having to read Samuel Pepys' diary as part of my advanced English Literature class. He just saw it as a log of his daily activities while running the household. I would consider many of today's blogs similar, twenty to fifty years from now pop historians will read to savor details that will not make to history books. I have some ration coupon books and access to wartime cookbooks using ration-friendly items that make me appreciate being able to run to my local grocery store on a whim, an option my grandmother would have loved at the time. I never learned that in my history class; I found these details in old letters. Anything you do is a part of the fabric of history whether intentional or not.
      Just my two cents worth.
      • Well said


        Your words echo my sentiments exactly. Individual accounts of history have a tendancy to record certain details that might not normally be found elsewhere. Not all blogs will serve has the source of such details. But I'm certain a good many will.

  • Wrong Date to Remember

    Don't know why you picked a minor incident in Russia instead of the major battle on D Day to talk about. A thousand people in Russia compared to the sacrifices and importance of D Day? 155,000 troops willing to die to DO something to stop Hitler and you discuss 1000 civilians on to remember THAT day?
    • Excuse My Bluntness

      I find it more than a little amazing that a person can write an article with the intent of talking about something he has learned in the course of his sort trudge on this ball of dirt, only to have someone else berate him and tell him of his apparently terrible evil in trying to impart information that may be helpful or useful to others.

      The fact that so many people died as a result of D-Day is a matter of record known to not a few people.

      The fact that men, women and children that were not even involved in combat--at least not by any intent of their own--died in heinous and evil ways is NOT so well expressed.

      If you can honestly say that this person should be ashamed for expressing the history of his family--or even of someone else's... and ultimately why? ...because he didn't talk about what YOU deem important or worthwhile?!? I feel rather sad of your willingness to discount things of worth because in your mind others have more.

      This article was as important in expanding the viewpoint of many as any I might be able to imagine--it certainly helped to expand mine (a thing that is ALWAYS helpful--too much of the time I live in the "here and now," and forget about the effect of my actions on the future much less things eternal).

      If I can say anything good about war--and I have a VERY hard time doing that--it is that many sacrifice to the intent that others may live and experience what liberty can be had upon the Earth. With this thought I can ALMOST make noble the actions of those who went to war.

      In your comment I can find little good however. You use the small victory of another as something to stomp on as a soapbox for your own commentary in the process berating the indivdual for providing it.

      Perhaps it's time to rethink your position.
      • The topic was Good over Evil

        D-Day was actually DOING something to stop evil (the point of the story). People willing to give their lives TO STOP evil is the only way that evil is stopped. THAT should be the memory of D-Day, the sacrifice of the brave to help the helpless.
        Being helpless is not noteworthy in and of itself.
        • You might try READING

          Actually, the subject of the article to which you responded was "Sixty years later, TECHNOLOGY triumphs over evil."

          Regardless what Mr Berlind was responding to. He made it plain the particular angle he intended to take even in the subject or title of his writing.

          It was not, and IS not my intent to belittle the efforts of those who "participated in" the D-Day invasions (or had any other part in that process--I may not agree with war, but I refuse to speak ill of people who felt they were doing well when they did as they did). I very much doubt also that Mr Berlind had any such intent.

          I note the conspicuous absence of D-Day anywhere in his article--not that I think it was excluded as a slight, but that the intent of the article was not what you assumed it was or--one might argue--SHOULD HAVE BEEN.

          Yet again, I know there will always be many who celebrate the actions and activities of those involved in D-Day. What Mr Berlind was speaking about is not so nicely or publicly aired--and even if it was, the information and ideas expressed were entirely worthwhile in the humble opinions of at least some of us.

          Your willingness to slight this article as--yet again--you use it as your personal soap-box on which to stand while espousing your own personal "holy ground" is no more correct for you errant opinion of the article's topic.

          Had you chosen to mention the folks involved in D-Day as an aside to Mr Berlind's article, I would have had NO PROBLEM with your statements. Instead, you chose to "call Mr Berlind out" for his obvious error in your eyes (might I add that you seem to be all alone in your belief?). This I could not sit by idly and watch.

          D-Day was an important historical event, that nobody will deny. Its significance in history will likely be argued for some great time to come. The series of events spoken of by Mr Berlind is less significant to a good many people. Nonetheless, that series of events IS important--and I for one was glad to hear about it.

          I can understand your interest in, and support of the events of, and persons involved in, D-Day. What I cannot understand or abide, is your willingness to make anything that surrounds it of no effect on the behalf of D-Day (by the way, I'm not aware D-Day, or any of the participants therein asked you to do that). That is unacceptable in my mind.

          So again, you might take a moment and reconsider your slight and attempted rewrite of the article in question.

          As a matter of record, I fully expect this to fall on deaf ears. Yet and still my HOPE is that it will not.
      • Thank you


        Thanks very much for writing such an empassioned response.

    • Peculiar message

      I know of someone whose child died in a car accident on 9/11/2001, far from Ground Zero. As an "incident" in the history of mankind this might strike many as being "minor". But it certainly was not minor for the family involved. Are you suggesting that no one in this family should ever communicate to others what they felt or thought? Would it somehow sully the memory of all those who died on that day, many in doing their duty? Seems like you have a strange stance that is not well thought out.
      • Exactly!

        The "big event" on Sept 11 WAS the massive destruction.
        The big event on June 6 WAS D-Day.

        Remembering a car accident on 9-11 is a local thing and is personally important to a few family members. FORGETTING 9-11 ON 9-11 in favor of one car accident misses the significance of the date TO THE WORLD.
        • Oooookay then

          If there was any intent on the part of the author of the article to forget D-Day, I fail to see it. The fact that he chose to write about something other than D-Day does NOT mean he intended that it be forgotten.

          An article written concerning the time of the 9/11 tragedy that doesn't mention the 9/11 tragedy is not by nature intended to be a slight of those events.

          I think, considering the voluminous information available on the one (be it the 9/11 tragedy, D-Day, or any other largely significant historical event), the fact that a personal tragedy or victory occurring on the same day is spoken about in a lone article should not be a matter of great concern.

          You make mountains of molehills belittling the past of so many in the doing of it. Have you never had a family member die? Did it matter to you that it happened on a day famous for some other thing? Are you not allowed to write about that without reference to that famous occurrence?

          The individual who wrote this article made reference to family history for the benefit of others. It appears that some part of the series of events was on or about the time of a more famous event. Your point would be? He was writing about the event that was significant for his conversation, not what was generally perceived as the signficant occurrence on that day.

          Sometimes it's the small event that makes the most difference--sometimes not.

          D-Day, nor any of history (not even the "small stuff") should not be forgotten. You imply that the "small stuff" SHOULD be forgotten because something of more significance in your mind occurred on that day.
          • I'm Agreeing with the author

            He said "In some sense, I?d like to believe that it is a small victory over the forces of evil that tried to separate and exterminate families in World War II."

            He's correct, In some sense it is a small victory. But in real sence, it did not contribute to a real victory over real evil at all, it's just a reminder of it.
          • One thing...

            One idea you need to GET OVER is that all victories are won on some grand field of battle.

            I count it a victory that I get out of bed every day. I think you will find that the author counts it a victory that a group who intended to exterminate all of another particular group was not only unable to do so, but was also unable to "cut the ties that bind."

            You think of it as a reminder, he sees it (rightly in my opinion) as a victory.

            As a final note for now, I like to think that the existence of good in the world is a small victory against evil since it cannot keep that good from existing. With that definition, in MY mind (feeble though it may be) what the author speaks of IS a real victory, in a REAL sense.
          • Precicesly, Small Victories

            Victories can (and are) on small scales as well. If my fellow Jews would have grabbed weapons and resisted the evil, a force of 6 million would have easily defeated the "evil" with lower losses. The lesson is that failing to recognize evil (or doing nothing), will only lead to more death and suffering.

            A small "victory" is not remembering past inactions. IMHO.
      • My father once had a saying...


        It went like this: The only surgery that's minor surgery is someone else's surgery. I think it does a good job of capturing the essence of the egocentrism that others suffer from. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

      • Response to "precisely"

        Miss it again!

        It isn't the memory of past inaction that is being discussed here. In fact the person speaking was not INVOLVED in that inaction (and whether I agree with you on this or not is beside the point).

        The victory is that of continuing to exist through even the terrible circumstances that were faced. Of continuing to relate when relationships are smashed.

        We can argue all day on action and inaction and which was appropriate. For all you know, if the Jews had risen up against the evil, other parties would never have become involved and the Jews would have sunk into oblivion as a result. Not because of weakness, but because of unpreparedness.

        That being the case, I refuse to even argue that (besides that it is NOT the point of the article to begin with).

        I guess I will have to resign myself to the fact that you continue to miss the point and "call it good." I have work to do
    • Not too good at history either, huh?

      You're not only a callous SOB, but you're not too good with details. DDay wasn't until a year later.

      We all understand your point. I also knew relatives personally that fought on DDay. Theirs was a tremendous sacrifice. Our point is that it must be hard on your ego to smash some one else's poignancy so ineligantly only to find out later that you were not only morally wrong, but factually wrong as well.

      Sleep peacefully tonight.
      • June 6th? Why not August 6th?

        Callous? hardly. I remember the other 12 MILLION Russians that died in the fight. I was mentioning June 6th because that was the beginning of the real "fight" against evil by the allies. THAT is a great date in History for actually FIGHTING oppression.

        Now, we can really talk about "Technology over Evil" in August 6th when the technology of atomic weapons finally came to end that war in the most humane way possible.