Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding the Strausbergs – confirming cousins through chance conversations

In Sept., 2011, I connected with Diane Davison through JewishGen. We were both searching our Binsztok from Bedzin, Polish roots.  According to the Bedzin census there were four Binsztok families living there in 1939. Diane shared with me that her Great Grandma was Marja Bienstock Konkowski.  Most of her family settled in Brussels. She also had cousins in  Paris and Canada. Whatever she knew was based on conversations she had with her mom’s two cousins, daughters of Marja and Josek Zelman Konkowski: Lilianne in Paris and Renee in Canada.

We did not know how we connected. When I connected with Marilyn, I was able to confirm we were cousins with the Y-DNA test, because we shared the Bienstock surname through our fathers. My brother Claude matched Marilyn’s father with a distance of 0. That meant that Marilyn and I were related within 4 generations. With Diane the connection was on her mother’s side.

Diane and I shared and compared  old family photos.  I had a photo from 1920 of my dad’s Aunt Sheindle with her family.  On the back my dad wrote “all killed in the Holocaust”.  Diane was convinced that this was a photo of her great grandparents,  Josek and Marja (Bienstock) Konkowski. The older boy was her grandfather Menachem (Maurice), the younger boy her great uncle Adolphe, and the girl was her great aunt Sonya. Sonya’s daughter, Lilianne, was living in France. The resemblance was undeniable.

Diane posted a photo of her ancestor Josek Konkowski.  Again, he looked like Sheindle’s husband.  All photo clues pointed to my Sheindl Bienstock as a match with Diane’s Marja Bienstock Konkowski . In my 2nd vinatge photo, my ggma Screnca (ggpa Alexander’s wife) appears as a match to Marja’s mother: Hana Malka Szajndel Kownkowski.

Images compared on website
My Screnca on left matches Diane's Malka on right

After more than a year of research, including Jewishgen,  Facebook and email discussions,  a chance conversation with my brother Claude in early January 2013 gave us the key to our connection.  Claude randomly mentioned that he visited cousin Adolf Konkowski in Montreal Canada in 1974.  Adolf had also visited us when we lived in Paterson.  As Diane relied on her older cousins for advice, I relied on my brother. Claude was 11 years older and had a good memory for details of family names and dates.

This solidified that we were related. Diane and I connected our family trees on MyHeritage. She had done extensive research on our tree, so connecting with her provided me with a goldmine of data.  By end of 2013 Diane was able to identify her connection with Marilyn, through CRARG, Czestochowa-Radomsko Area Research Group (, Szczekociny records.   We still could not figure out how my grandpa David matched on the tree, because for some unknown reason, according to his immigration records, he was born in Poltava Ukraine while all the other Binstoks were born in Bedzin area.

It was 2 years later, 2/26/2015, that I had a conversation with Diane about her mom’s first cousin, Lilianne. Diane told me that Liliane remembered my Aunt Clara, my dad Jacques, and their father David!  Lilianne had met my family in 1970.  Lilianne told her my gpa David was first cousins with her mother Sonia, Diane’s Gpa Maurice, & his brother Adolfe! 

I dug deeper into Diane’s tree, and discovered that Liliane was a Stzrausberg!    I knew that surname well. That was the cousin my dad often spoke about.  I shared two pictures of Jean Strausberg from my dad’s photo album.  Lilianne confirmed that she was the woman in that photo with her husband Jean. Jean was the 15-yr-old boy who hid in Ceyroux with his father Max, from 1942 until liberation.

In my dad’s memoire, he writes ….  

CEYROUX Chapter:  My father’s cousin Jeannette, originally from London, was married to Max Strausberg, my father’s business partner, in the early 1930's.  In August 1942 they left Paris for Ceyroux with their 15 year old son Jean.  Unfortunately as they were crossing the demarcation line into the free zone, the Germans spotted them.  They ran as fast as they could.  Jean and his father made it, but Jeanette did not.  They caught her and she was never seen again.  It was a terrible thing.  Mr. Strausberg and his son found a room to rent in Ceyroux.  Later they received some work from Paris and were able to survive the rest of the war.  Occasionally Marie worked for Max as a seamstress.

When my niece Danielle visited Ceyroux to meet the farmers who rescued our family, she spoke with someone who remembered Max and Jean having dinner at the restaurant in Ceyroux.   

I posted & tagged the Strauzberg photos with Lilianne, and her daughters Val & Catherine on FaceBook.  After many interactions in email, online and by phone, I finally met Diane and her mother Claudine in-person in April 2015.  This August, 2018, I will be traveling to France to finally meet Lilianne and her daughter Catherine. 

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