This article has been modified from one of the chapters in my book Travel Back to Your Roots which is available on Amazon. The book describes how to begin genealogy for your immigrant ancestors, how to research and find records in Europe, and how to achieve your end goal of traveling to Europe to visit their birthplace and even meet long lost cousins! I did it and want to show others that it isn’t impossible, even if you did not inherit any information about your ancestors.
Three Sets of Cousins Mark and Donna Found and Then Met in Sweden and Poland in 2014 and 2016
Planning a Trip to Europe: Transportation
Choosing a Transatlantic Cruise
Traveling to Europe doesn’t have to be expensive, and the internet allows you to be your own travel agent. For those who are not tech savvy, an agent might be an option, but they typically will provide mainstream and obvious options. Independent travelers will find less expensive alternatives online that will make the trip more customized.
The ideal travel months for inexpensive European travel are just before and after summer vacation months. The prices and weather are likely more favorable, and the traveler has fewer people with whom to compete. Also, many European hotels do not have air-conditioning, and some that do will not allow the guest to control the settings. The popular areas around the Mediterranean in July and August are crowded, warm, and come with premium prices. Also, August is historically the month when many Europeans travel and you will have stiff competition.
You have two options to get to Europe: a round trip flight or a one-way transatlantic cruise with a one-way flight. If you have a flexible schedule and have three to four weeks for your trip, consider booking a transatlantic cruise for your journey to or from Europe.
Honey produced in Poland has always been esteemed as a type of liquid gold. Historically, many bee colonies were under control of the royal landowners. Stealing honey from their estates was often met with death on the gallows. Destroying an entire colony of bees, even if they belonged to the accused, resulted in an unimaginable punishment: evisceration. The person would “be handed over to the executioner, who shall take out the entrails and wind them round the tree in which the bees were willfully destroyed and shall afterwards hang him on the same tree.”
A Polish beekeeper from 1870
Monday, April 24, 2017 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I am in the process of completing the application for two Polish people to posthumously receive the “Righteous Among the Nations” award from Yad Yeshem in Israel. This distinction is awarded to gentiles who assisted Jews during the Holocaust. Please read the story and about the ways you can assist so the application and testimony would be favorably received by the committee. Maybe next year in Jerusalem?
A Tree is Planted in Israel for Each Recipient of the Award
The research for my next historical novel led me to a little-known story about a Catholic priest and a widow only known as “Pani Kotulova.” The details of their kindness and bravery took place in the small town of Kolbuszowa in 1942. Father Antoni Dunajecki, the priest from the town’s church and Pani (Mrs.) Kotulova” are the two rescuers of Norman Salsitz, a young Jewish man. Salsitz wrote about these courageous people in his remarkable book “A Jewish Boyhood in Poland: Remembering Kolbuszowa.”
Niwiska –World War II
The village of Niwiska is surrounded by the wild Sandomierz Forests and provided great strategic significance in World War II. The Nazis overtook the area and evacuated Niwiska and Blizna to test their experimental V-1 and V-2 missiles. The goal was to shift the balance of power with these new weapons. The seclusion of the forests made it a perfect location for such tests. This isolation also led refugees and partisans to the Niwiska forests for a place to hide and conduct subversive activities.
Woods near Niwiska
Many of the villagers were in church when the first Nazi bombs struck. They were listening to Father Kurek’s homily and were startled by these initial explosions. Panic broke out, and the parishioners stumbled over one another as they fled.
The Farm and Home of Michal Grabiec as described by his granddaughter, Anna Grabiec (revision by Donna Gawell*)
The farm of Michal Grabiec was located at the edge of the village of Niwiska, not far from the forest. The house stood on the hill a little way from the main road that leads from Kolbuszowa to Rzochow and Mielec. The remains of the Sandomierz Wilderness stretched further on the horizon.
The house was built of unhewn trees using a construction method that used coal. The trees were stacked with bricks of coal, and the bark was stripped off.
A War Memory (World War II) written by Anna Grabiec
From Donna: This story will tell you about the bravery of the Polish people who assisted the Jewish population who lived in the forests during WWII.
This photo was taken by Donna in Niwiska in 2016. It is the rebuilt barn on my ancestor’s property. A fifteen-minute walk through the woods leads to the Blizna Historic Site.
(Preface from Donna Gawell: the village of Niwiska and the adjoining village of Blizna were evacuated so the Nazis could build a research facility and testing site for V1 and V2 missiles. I will write another story about this important part of WWII history. Many villagers, including Anna Grabiec were active in the Polish Army’s covert activities that assisted the Allies.)