Eli Fuchs and Fruma Skriloff

26 January 2011


     Here are my memories of my grandparents, David and Fannie Fox. In 1913, at the age of seventeen, David had left his family and friends in the small shtetl of Uzlyany. He met Fannie Greenberg in New York City, where they married and raised a family. 
     When I was a little boy, we visited my grandparents in the Bronx, where they, and my Aunt Shirley, lived on the ground floor of a tenement building near a public park.  The two room bedroom apartment was small, and it always smelled of boiling chicken soup and dill.   Occasionally, on special occasions, Grandpa Dave opened a dark wood cabinet, which smelled like cedar, and poured a small glass of "schnapps" for himself and his guests.  Then, he and Grandma Fannie would sit upright in straight-back chairs on one side of the room while my two younger brothers and I would sit, facing them, on the other side of the room. 
Me (Douglas) and Grandpa Dave

    There was rarely much conversation while we, the younger Fox generation, faced our elders.  Dave and Fannie sat quietly, even wordlessly, sometimes for long stretches at a time, occasionally smiling weakly at us while we fidgeted in our chairs.   I do not ever  remember hearing any talk of their emigration to the United States, or of relatives they left behind, or anything at all about life in the "old country."

     It was not until I was much older that I first learned, from my Aunt Shirley, that Dave's mother and father, my great-grandparents, Eli and Fruma Fuchs, were ruthlessly murdered in the early days of the Holocaust in their shtetl in Yuzlyany, in what is now known as Belarus.  The loss of parents under those circumstances must have been incredibly painful for Dave and perhaps even caused him great guilt for the parents left behind.  I imagine now that Dave and Fannie's stoicism resulted from the horrors of the Holocaust and the loss of his parents.  How could one make polite small talk or crack silly jokes in the face of such horrors?  Dave and Fannie were victims of the Holocaust.  I just didn't know it, and of my own personal connection to the horrors of the Holocaust, at that time. 

     As the head of my law firm's pro bono program, I have had the privilege to assist several Holocaust survivors to make application to the German government for Holocaust benefits. Usually, the survivors are accompanied by their children, and on more than one occasion, I learned during my interviews that the survivor had never spoken to their children about the survivor's experiences during the Holocaust.  It is not so surprising, then, that Dave and Fannie wouldn't have shared the details of the deaths of Eli and Fruma with their grandchildren.  Yet, I wish they had, in some age-appropriate way, been able to share the horrors of the Holocaust with their grandchildren. It would have helped us to understand what made Dave and Fannie who they were, and who, in turn, we were.   Whether or not Deb and I ever make our journey to Uzlyany, our work on this blog has already enriched me beyond words.  For that I will be forever grateful, and mindful of the sacrifices made by Eli and Fruma, and Dave and Fannie, so that their great-grandchildren and grandchildren could live better lives. 

21 January 2011


     Our journey into Doug's family history began in the early 1980's when my daughters were born. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, so genealogy research meant following a paper, rather than a digital, trail. I asked my father in law Sam and his sister to write down what they knew of the family history. They knew the Fox ancestors were from a village near Minsk called "Yuslany."
     Finding "Yuslany" took years back then. I searched for every map of the USSR I could find (the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union was still in the future). In 1989, Chester G. Cohen published Shtetl Finder (Heritage Books). I was so excited when the volume arrived in the mail. I opened it to the "Y" section and found . . .
     No "Yuslany." How disappointing!
     Paging through the book a few days later, I realized that "Yuslany" was a phonetic spelling. Sure enough, the shtetl was listed under "Uzlion." Over the years, I have come across many spellings: Uzlian, Uzlyany, Uzliany, and Uzljany. On present day maps of Belarus, it is often spelled "Vusljany."
     Had I begun our search today, I would have found Uzlyany in a quick internet session, thanks to JewishGen, the mega-site for Jewish genealogy. Its ShtetlSeeker search engine is an invaluable tool for anyone searching for shetls, villages, towns, and cities in central and eastern Europe. One of the search features is the valuable "sounds like" function, which conducts a search based on the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, which incorporates Yiddish as well as other European phonetics.
     Not only did my ShtetlSeeker search return information regarding the geographical (20 miles SSE of Minsk) and political locations of Uzlyany, it gave me a choice of maps showing the location.
     Finding the home town of an ancestor is always an emotional moment. To see a town or shtetl on a map is to fix ancestors in time and place--they walked upon that spot of earth, and maybe someday their descendants will, too. A location on a map is a descendant's first step toward that journey.
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18 January 2011


Welcome to our journey. This month, January 2011, my husband and I are setting out on a path to uncover and document the story of Eli and Fruma Fuchs of Uzlyany, Belarus. Eli and Fruma are Doug's paternal great grandparents. Their son, David, emigrated to the United States in 1913. David's brother, Isadore, followed a few years later. Their parents were shot to death on 8 October 1941 by a Nazi einsatzgruppen squad. The purpose of these squads was to eliminate the Jews, and other enemies, one by one, bullet by bullet. The actrocities of the einsatzgruppen squads have not been as widely studied and documented as those committed in the death camps and labor camps. Time is running short to do so, as witnesses age and memories are extinguished. Therefore, our journey will be one of witnessing as well as family history.