I am posting this next series in this manner because all of the articles come from the same newsletter of the Museum of Jewish Heritage- Special Interest Group:Latvia - and they won't post separately.
Please read the original articles for a more detailed content.
I booked a trip to Europe with a stopover in Riga.
My first stop was the synagogue where three gentlemen standing outside greeted me. They were curious as to who I was since everyone in Latvia told me that I looked like a foreigner.
I just smiled and said Shalom, I am the grandson of Zeev Wolf Elterman from Griva who left in 1904 and I am the first in the family to return. Needless to say, they were delighted and we became fast friends. One of those gentlemen was Rabbi Aryeh Bekker, the Deputy Chief Rabbi of Riga.
I showed him all of my grandparents’ documents including the Katuba from 1897. He was really amazed and shared them with other members in the Shul. I told him that I was kind of surprised with his excitement since he must have met other grandchildren returning to Latvia. He explained that not so many actually do return and very few bearing such documents that are over a hundred years old that were created right in his own backyard.
Later that day I met with Rita Blum at the State Historical Archives in Riga.
The only thing that was still missing, for me, was whether my grandfather had any siblings.
I shared with her the travel documents for my grandfather. She studied the stamps in the passport and commented that he was in a hurry to leave since on May 31, 1904 he had his stamp to leave Dvinsk and we know that four days later he showed up in Liepaja, since there is a clear stamp in the passport indicating that he left the country on June 4, 1904. I asked her how Wolf got to Liepaja in four days. She said that he could only have made it by horse-drawn carriage and that he would have had to travel day and night. Incredible!
Rita left and brought back a rather large, heavy book. This was the Griva family book circa 1878. I asked her who kept this book. Did the local Rabbi keep it? No, she explained, it was kept by the local Griva police. They wanted to keep track of all the Jews and wanted to know who was living in the house and who had traveled overseas.
When I got to page 452 I found my family. My grandfather did have brothers and sisters. It was incredible. As it turned out I already had a 1929 passport photo of a Pinkus Elterman that I found on the Internet and it turned out to be my grandfather’s brother.
Rita came down with the birth records of my grandfather and I held the original document in my hand. She was very happy for me that I had found Wolf’s family in the Griva book and we both commented that he must have been the explorer of the family since he was the only one, except for a second cousin, who left for the New World. Sadly, Rita commented that no one else would have survived after 1941.
The next day I stopped at the Jewish Center. I went upstairs and saw the little museum. I met an elderly Jewish woman there who was a volunteer. She must have been about 85 and had the most beautiful blue eyes. I showed her the city of Griva on the map. In her broken English she told me that she had been there and she seemed puzzled as to why I would want to go there.
She looked at me and said don’t go there, there is nothing there for you and everyone is gone. I could not believe what I was hearing. She continued that there were only three streets in Griva and that instead I should look forward in life and not back and that I should spend my last day in Latvia at the beach of Jurmala. I do not think that I will ever forget her and at the end of the day, 80-year-old Jewish women do know what they are talking about and they should be respected for that.