Thursday, May 5th, 2011...10:44 am

Connecting with my Grandfather

On Monday, JDC launched a website – Our Shared Legacy - featuring 500,000 names and over 1,000 images from JDC’s Holocaust-era relief and rescue work. JDC staff member and former JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow Gila Ward Menda entered a few names in the search engine. Here’s her story.

It is often surreal to connect with one’s grandparents through the Internet. It was even more so for me, as the grandfather I connected with was one I have never met.

My mother’s father, Felix Kozak, was born in Poland in 1921 and survived the concentration camps, but never spoke about his life prior to immigrating to Norwalk, CT. The way my mother tells it, he died many years before it became fashionable to share one’s story – perhaps what he experienced was simply something he could not share.

Felix Kozak, fourth from the left, on his wedding day.

Growing up, I heard many small details, but never a concrete story with dates, locations. I know about the Pisces tattoo covering up the numbers on his arm, the music he shared with my mom, his skills as a tailor. But he didn’t talk much about his life before he married a young woman, originally from Germany, who would become my Oma. My parents both started to research the full story much later.

I’ve worked for the JDC for nearly three years. I’ve always been deeply proud of the work of the Joint – but now, for lack of a better word, I find it extraordinary that I ended up here.

On Yom Hoshoah – the Holocaust Remembrance day – JDC shared part of my grandfather’s story with me. Through the Joint’s digitization of its archive materials, I was able to find the physical copy of my grandfather’s immigration card, stamped in Munich, granting him access to the States, in 1949.

Felix Kozak's immigration card, found in JDC's Archives

The organization I work for – which helps Jews around the world – also helped my own grandfather two generations ago. The support JDC provided is intrinsic to who and how my family (and I quite literally) came to be.

As my mom put it after I shared the news on Facebook: “Here’s a shout out to our daughter Gila, her coworkers, and other volunteers at the AJJDC (‘the Joint”) for their efforts in making documents of the Joint’s activities in Europe from 50-75 years back to the digital age. The thrill of reading my father’s file goes beyond words.”

You can search our online database at http://archives.jdc.org/sharedlegacy/. Let us know if you find your relatives. Email globalservice@jdcny.org or use the comments section below.

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