For most of my life, I was ignorant. I had no idea. Oblivious. It wasn’t hidden outright, talked about in hushed tones, or swept under the rug.
I discovered that I had family in that perished in the Holocaust while still in high-school when I encountered a plain red, three-pronged folder. Originally thinking it was a long forgotten graduate school assignment of my mother’s, I didn’t think much of the find. Only when my father told me what this actually was, did I begin to show any curiosity whatsoever. The decades-old document that I had unearthed from the bookcase in my living room was the autobiography of my great-grandfather, Harry (Israel) Chanen z”l, one that he wrote along with my great-aunt. I never had the privilege of meeting Grandpa Harry, as my father and his siblings called him, but I am lucky enough to be one his great-grandchildren who bear his name (William Israel). At the beginning of the book, when writing about the members of his extended family, he lists his father’s family and their whereabouts next to their names. X settled in America, Y moved to Israel, etc. But as I looked at the name of a cousin, my heart sank. Uriah Chanen: murdered by the Nazis. I sat transfixed as I read that statement over and over again. I did not possess a naive assumption that somehow my entire extended family had escaped the Nazi death machine, yet this revelation hit me like a freight train. Every time I visited to Yad Vashem or perused the online database they maintain, I searched for family members and found nothing. This time, I had a name: Uriyah, and I was determined to find him. After searching through a litany of interesting and unusual variations of spelling, I did just that.
Uriyah Hanin was born in Dagda, Latvia in 1875 to Leib. He was a merchant and married to Hinda (nee Lev). Prior to WWII he lived in Dagda, Latvia. During the war he was in Dagda, Latvia.
Uriyah was murdered in the Shoah.
This testimony was added to the Yad Vashem archives in 1957 by his daughter, Ahuva Brandwein, a resident of Kfar Saba. Uriyah wasn’t the only Hanin in the database. His children listed there are Michel (Misa), Sara Riva, and Leah. Michel was married to Leah, and they lived in Dagda where he too worked as a merchant. The couple had a son named Chaim. Sara Riva was married to Yisrael (Zilu) Erenstein, and they had one daughter, Hinda. They lived in Tukum, 40 miles east of Riga and 205 miles from Dagda. Leah, Uriyah’s youngest child listed, was a student. There was also Yankel Hanin, a different first cousin of Grandpa Harry’s, and his wife Genda and children Mere and Bar. And then there was Avraham Hanin; Reina Hanin; Samuel Hanin; and Tzila Hanin. They, along with the remnant of Jews in Dagda and surrounding towns in Southwest Latvia, were expelled to the Dvinsk Ghetto in July 1941. They were murdered by the Nazis in the Pogulianka forest in Lithuania one month later.
I set out to uncover information about one of my great-grandfather’s cousins who died al kiddush Hashem. Instead, I found fifteen more relatives who earned that same moniker. And there may be others. The database listed more Hanins, some who I know ultimately escaped Dagda, and others whose fate I still do not know, and most likely, never will.
תהא נשמתם צרורם בצרור החיים
Clockwise from the top: (1) Michel (Misa), Leah, and Chaim Hanin Hy”d (2) One of the three synagogues in Dagda (3) Dagda sign today (4) Monument in memory of the Dagda and Vishki (Latvia) Jewish communities Hy”d (5) Pre-war Dagda (6) Pre-war Dagda