Growing up in the United States, the Privens did not know much about their family history or the tragic fate of relatives from their father’s ancestral village of Pavoloch during the Holocaust. Driven to uncover their family roots, siblings Lew and Cheryl Priven embarked on a genealogical search that began with a trip to the Ukraine, followed by an important discovery of new information on Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, ultimately having an enormous impact on the Priven family through their newly discovered direct connection to the Holocaust. The discovery of previously unknown living relatives culminated in an emotional reunion of extended family in the US and Israel and a moving Bar Mitzvah ceremony "twinning" Jalen Schlosberg, Lew Priven’s grandson, with one of his unknown cousins, who was murdered during the Holocaust.
This week Jalen Schlosberg and his extended family marked his Bar Mitzvah with a unique guided tour of the Holocaust History Museum that highlighted the family's personal link to the Holocaust. The pinnacle of this special visit took place in the Yad Vashem synagogue where the family participated in an emotional commemoration and "twinning" ceremony in which Jalen took it upon himself to honor and uphold the memory of his "twin", his third cousin, Haim Okham who was murdered in the Holocaust at the age of 13 and robbed of his opportunity to experience a fulfilling life, including his own Jewish coming of age ceremony.
During the ceremony, Lew recounted his father's stories from his native Ukrainian village, describing how he initially imagined it as the Jewish shtetl from Fiddler on the Roof before he became interested in his family roots and visited the town of Pavoloch for himself. Overcome with emotion, Lew described in detail his 2011 journey with his sister, Cheryl to their father’s hometown. During the retelling of the story, Lew’s grief was evident as he had to pause and fight back tears, detailing how he came upon the mass grave and the stark monument marking the horrific massacre of the 1,500-member Jewish community on September 5, 1941. In a poignant message to his grandson warning against apathy to others, Lew recounted Martin Niemoller's poem and concluded with a valuable lesson saying, "As Jews we must not remain indifferent to the suffering of anyone, anywhere."
Jalen's great-aunt, Cheryl (Priven) Finklestein explained how she had studied the Holocaust for many years and how the discovery of living relatives through Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem transformed her connection to a personal one that directly affected her family. She discovered Haim Okham and 4 other murdered members of his family only recently after searching for Pages of Testimony commemorating them in the Names Database. The Pages of Testimony were submitted in 1999 by a person named Rudolf Priven who then lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, after emigrating from Russia in the early 1990's.
Now 75, Rudolf Priven is a retired physician who grew up in the Ural Mountains area after he and his mother, Fanya, were sent there by the Soviets from Kiev. The two groups of Privens compared notes when they subsequently met together with their spouses and confirmed that they are second cousins: Rudolf’s grandfather, Haskel Priven, was a brother of Morris Priven, the grandfather of Lew and Cheryl. Morris had left Pavoloch for the United States in 1922 and settled in Boston, where he worked as a carpenter. Julius Priven, a son of Morris and the father of Lew and Cheryl, spent his working life in kosher meat markets. Lew and Cheryl had diagrammed a detailed family tree based on conversations with their father. The tree also proved invaluable in establishing the connection to Rudolf Priven’s side of the family.
The importance of this find was staggering for the entire family. Cheryl said, "We managed to find a living family member that we would never have known. I want to thank all of those at Yad Vashem who work on the Names Database project. It feels like a miracle rising from the ashes to me".
For more information about the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org