Searching for Galicia

A 20-Year Quest To Find My Roots

By Bert Stratton

Published February 08, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

My grandmother Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren foyl (lazy). She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe. I wasn’t going to call her Bubbe. Too effeminate.

Bub was not into baseball; she was into the card game casino, the television show “Queen for a Day” and food — from borscht to boiled chicken to cows’ feet. She could eat. She had “sugar diabetes,” as they called them in the ‘60s. Bub wore bubbe shoes.

Anna Soltzberg circa 1951.
Anna Soltzberg circa 1951.

I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from. I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.

Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl of Grodzisko. She came to America at 20.

In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.” That was dead wrong, but it at least made sense to me.

In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with my parents and me. At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut. Bub wanted my aunt not to keep kosher. Keeping kosher was too expensive. Bub was a bit of a socialist, and cheap.

At Bub’s funeral — during the shiva meal — the question of kashrut came up again. My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington) and my Uncle Itchie were at our dining room table.

Uncle Itchie, sitting next to Aunt Lil from Delaware, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”

“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.

Itchie, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat? It’s not kosher!”



Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”



“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?” said Delaware Lil.


”Yes,” said Washington Lil.


“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.

“Yes, it is.” said Washington Lil.

My mother interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” Mild laughter. My mom was the peacemaker.

After that meal, nobody talked to each other for a long time. Years.

Grodzisko. Galicia. Austria-Hungary. I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the “Shtetl Finder” map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), and it was located about 75 miles northwest of Lvov. The various shtetls had so many different names. That was the trick.

During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.” It was from a cousin, Rachela Seiger. The note, written in Polish, said, basically, “How are you?” On the flip side of the card was a photo of Rachela’s sister Mili Seiger.

Soon after it was mailed the Germans invaded.

I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem online archives. There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers. I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.

There are three types of Jews. I don’t mean Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. I mean American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust. Those are my people.

Bert Stratton is the leader of the Cleveland band Yiddishe Cup and writes the Klezmer Guy blog.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.