Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Other Patrimony

Left, from Latvia Holocaust Jewish Names Project.

Right, Kaiserwald concentration camp, Riga; from The Vilnius Ghetto.

In the previous post, I wrote about my father's father and his extended family, who left Riga, Latvia, for the U.S. and England in the late 19th century. In the past several years, I've done extensive research on the Stander (aka Stender) family, first on and, then on and at the genealogical archives in London.

When I started my research, the only Stander relatives I knew of were my five half-sisters, two first cousins and a handful of second or third cousins, all in the U.S. But since then, I've found a vast and ever-growing web of family, from Opelousas, Louisiana; to Capetown, to Liverpool, to Denmark, to Israel. I've gotten in touch with and met many of them, and they've helped me to greatly expand the two Stander family trees I've drawn up: one for my father's line from Riga; one for a line from Tukums, some of whom also ended up in England (none were listed in the 1924 Tukums telephone directory). I plan to combine those two trees, once I find their missing links. It may take a long time, though, as many records of Latvian Jews are missing or were destroyed. To make matters more complicated, they're variously in German, Russian and Latvian.

There are quite a few names on my family trees that have birth but not death dates, and I found no records of those people having emigrated. What could have happened to them, I've often wondered?

Yesterday, one of my British cousins sent me a link to this website: the Latvia Holocaust Jewish Names Project. I searched the Surnames database and discovered the fates of some of those missing family members in 1941-45:
  • Marianna Stender (b. 1864) - Ghetto, killed
  • Frume ("Pious") Stender (b. 1879) - Ghetto, killed 1941
  • Asna Lea Stender Schandler (b. 1888) - Fled
  • Esther Stender (b. 1908, same as my father) - Ghetto (i.e., died or killed)
  • Gita Stender (b. 1916) - Red Army, survived
  • Johanna Stender (b. 1919, Gita's sister) - Fled?
  • Haim Owsey/Osvald Stender (Gita's father, b. 1879) - Fled?
  • Jocha Switgall Stender (Gita's mother, b. 1880) - Fled?
  • Leon Stender (b. 1899) - Killed 1941, Riga
  • Nachman Stender (b. 1872) - Killed Sept. 1, 1941, Riga
  • Hinke Stender (b. 1892) - Killed July 1941, Tukums (Per this site: "After German occupation [in June], most of those [Jews] remaining were either shot outside of the town, burned inside a local synagogue, or sent to forced labor camps.")
  • Jacob Stender (Hinke's brother, b. 1899) - Killed July 1941, Tukums
  • Masche Stender (Jacob's wife, b. 1910) - Killed July 1941, Tukums
  • Sore Stender (Jacob & Hinke's brother, b. 1902) - Killed July 1941, Tukums
  • The list goes on and on...
And then there were the Stenders in the Baltic coastal town of Liepaja (aka Libau), where on December 15-17, 1941, more than 2700 Jews were shot on the dunes at Skede, as horrifyingly photographed by a German officer. The young women were forced to strip first in the freezing cold.

My relatives in Liepaja seemed to have escaped that fate, though Mowscha Stender (b. 1881), a shoemaker, was killed some time in 1941. His son Wolf and daughter Rachel-Leie, both in their twenties, were sent to Kaiserwald, where they died in about 1944. A widow Sara Stender (b. 1919) was sent to Auschwitz with her little children Theodor (b. 1939) and Manja (b. 1940), where all three died on November 3, 1943, presumably gassed. In that same year but a world away, my father acted in three Hollywood movies and a radio series.


Gina Black said...

Thank you so much for the story and the links. One of the branches of my family is from Latvia and it never occurred to me to try to look because I'd been told the name was shortened when they arrived in America. But when I searched for the surname on one of the sites it came up with an alternate spelling. I'm stunned. This deserves more research.

Bella Stander said...

The Soundex (alternate spelling) feature is marvelous. I've found the same name transliterated from Latvian/Russian/Yiddish in several different ways.

Then it gets even more confusing when a man is variously referred to by his first & middle names, first & patronymic, Yiddish middle & patronymic, Russian/German/Yiddish/English first or middle name, or Yiddish diminutive of his middle name. My paternal great-grandfather was Leiser Yosef STENDER in one document and Jossel Mowscha in another. His wife was Rose/Raschka/Roschke/Rosche. And his grandfather was listed as Movsha/Mowscha SHTENDER, great-grandfather was SHTANDER and g-g-grandfather was Leizer SHTENDER.

And don't get me started on the creative answers people put on U.S. & U.K. census forms. One relative aged only 8 years every ten, eventually winding up years younger than her kid sister. Another, from Latvia, came to Ellis Island via Hamburg with a boatload of Swedes and declared himself Swedish, not "Hebrew."

You have to be a detective to work on genealogy. Maybe that's why it's so addictive--and rewarding.

David said...

Very similar to the story of my mother's family.

They were Lithuanian Jews, many of whom left while young and settled all over the place, from Capetown to England to Israel to the U.S., but many of whom didn't get out in time and died in the Holocaust.

Bella Stander said...

There were Standers in Lithuania too & their story was the same. Probably also for the Kanters, my paternal grandmother's family, who had been in Kaunas.

Sustenance Scout said...

Fascinating and distressing, Bella. Kudos to you on all this hard work. Just naming their names honors your ancestors' memories. Amazing. K.

Kim Stagliano said...

What can you do after reading that post except bow your head and close your eyes?


Anonymous said...

Hi Bella,

I don't know quite how, but my father found you and your blog. I read (tearfully) through this blog and would like to know how I can reach you to find out more about the Stender family you are researching. I am a Stender, and wonder if we might be related.

Thanks so much,


Bella Stander said...

Toni, my email address is in the column at right: blog (at)

Sean Bentley said...

Interesting post! I visited Tukums in August, tracking my great-great grandfather, who left in 1884. His mother's family stayed behind and died when the Germans invaded in 1941...

Sean Bentley said...

Several of my relations too were killed in July 1941 in Tukums. I visited Tukums this summer... I have a brief article here: and sme photos on my blog at