By Bob Liftig
Kalush is a city set in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast (province) of what is now western Ukraine, formerly Poland, then Austria, then Poland again, and which was once known as part of Galicia, and which fell into the death grip of Stalin first, and then Hitler, and was re-visited by the U.S.S.R., until that failed experiment collapsed, after which Kalush became part of the independent Ukraine.
There are salt mines there.
As my newly discovered Canadian cousin Jakub Ciring – the only descendant of the last Ziering of Holyn, near Kalush – likes to say, “We didn’t have to visit those countries: they came to Kalush.”
The Jewish community in the region around Kalush, which includes the villages of Holyn and Dolina, was established before 1650 and was extinguished in two stages: first, in 1939, when the Russians took over and sent both Jewish and non-Jewish townsmen off to Siberia; then, in 1941, when the Nazis invaded, herded the remaining Jews into the forests around Dolina, and shot them.
Kalush was the Auld Sod of my Ziering ancestors. Shangri-la it never was – and still isn’t.
The Zierings were allowed to exist in the area around Kalush for 300 years – long enough to grow five extended branches; four of which were lucky enough, brave enough, or desperate enough, to abandon all hope in that hopeless region and move to America. Only one branch was too comfortable or too clueless to read the graffiti on the wall, and stayed there.
Wulf Ruwen Ziering, my great-great-grandfather, was probably the first to arrive on American shores – in 1889 – having recently received a draft notice from the Czar. His instincts told him to run, then walk, in the other direction: through Germany and France, then hop something that floated to England, then slave for a year in Liverpool to earn enough for the steamship West so he could slave again on the Lower East Side of New York until he had earned just enough money to send for his brothers.
So far – same old, same old, you say; but Wulf had left four other Ziering branches behind in Kalush.
Twenty years after Wulf escaped, the ancestors of the “Beverly Hills 90210” co-star Ian Ziering became the second branch to evacuate. Joseph Ziering settled in West Orange, N.J. Ian’s family was followed by another set of Zierings who went to Chicago; and still another who made it to New York – all of whom carried only the vaguest of rumors of other Zierings in America in their pockets.
By then the phone book had been invented, and Ziering names were seen, and Ziering cousins contacted. Ziering stories were traded about the last Kalushniks left, and these stories were similar: some of the Zierings of Kalush were into farming now, and different American branches were sending whatever they could to the Ziering farmers to purchase different species of animals (my family sent money for goats); a Ziering with a club foot had once been kept for observation at Castle Garden (the immigration entrepot before Ellis Island) because he had told the immigration officials his limp was just a sprain of his ankle instead of what it really was: clubbed feet. They American authorities eventually saw him sockless and sent him back. And finally: The Richest Ziering In All Kalush – a miller – had been robbed of everything by his Christian servants, and now desperately needed … (more cash sent).
Then…the Holocaust…and silence.
Westport, Connecticut, 1992
A letter arrived in my mailbox from a Jakub Ciring of Canada. He was looking for long lost relatives. His father, Izrael, had been kidnapped out of Kalush by the Russian occupiers, sent to Siberia, and drafted into the Reds; but when the war was over, Izrael was told by a soldier who had just returned from Holyn, Dolina, and Kalush, that there were no more Zierings left. So, instead of going home to Kalush, Izrael moved to Poland.
Izrael had heard that other Zierings had made it to America, and he told this to Jakub, his only son, when Jakub decided he needed to get out of Poland. Jakub would try Canada first, he told his father, and if that didn’t work, he’d go to Israel.
When Jakub landed in New York on his way to Canada, he looked for other Zierings in the phone book. He called one of them who gave him my address, because the word was circulating among our family that my brother, Dr. Rick Liftig of West Hartford, and I, had researched the family tree and were mailing it around to relatives.
Jakub sent me his list of ancestors, and I wrote back to him, welcoming Jakub into the American Ziering family, although I couldn’t make many connections between mine and Jakub’s remembered ancestors.
Westport, Connecticut. 2011
The Internet is now part of the Americanfabric. Facebook has Zierings on it; Spokeo.com lists Zierings across America;a Google of “Ziering” turns up many ‘hits’: Ian Ziering, the Hollywood actor, Drs. Craig, Robert, and William Ziering, doctors, Dr. Sigi Ziering, the chemist; Ziering lawyers, Ziering professors, Ziering businessmen and real estate brokers: Zierings are all over the country. They have emails and cell phones.
One day I am browsing through the Westport phone directory and discover a Ziering right down the street.
I call Allison Ziering Walmark. We visit. She has recently moved to Westport from New York City. Her mother and father live with her; they are originally from West Orange, N.J. The actor Ian Ziering is her first cousin. Her great grandfather was Ruwen Wulf Ziering – not exactly my Ruwen Wulf, but close to it. They are originally from Kalush, Austria, Galicia, Poland, Ukraine, Russia – like my family. They are from the second branch that left. I tell Allison that we must be related and that my branch sent her branch a lot of money way back when, and that somebody owes us a goat.
Then I remember Jakub Ciring of Canada, originally from Holyn near Kalush, and I tell Allison and her father about him. Allison’s father says he must be Jakub Ciring’s long lost great-uncle. When Jakub was a boy, grandpa Joseph sent Jakub’s family money, clothes, and medicine.
I call Canada.
Next, Allison and I contact known and suspected Ziering cousins. Everyone is interested in a reunion. Jakub (Branch #5) flies down from Canada to meet Branch #1 and Branch #2 (I begin dating the Ziering branches by their year of arrival). The following summer my wife and I fly to Canada and stay with Jakub and Danuta, his wife, and meet their children. A few months later, Jakub’s daughter Maya visits Jessica Zering, a cousin she discovered across the border in Washington. Jessica is originally from Chicago – Branch #4. Then
Bob Ziering, the New York artist, appears on Facebook, and I make a “friend” of him and get his phone number. Bob has been looking for Zierings too, and also wants to meet any and all of them. I ask Bob where his father was from (Kalush!) and when he came over. Branch #3 is identified.
As I write this, Zierings are e-mailing
Zierings across the continent and across the border. Just a week ago, Jessica grom Washington found Zierings in Jerusalem and is now in email contact with them (Branch # 6?). It seems that everyone is planning big reunions and smaller ones – or at least making promises.
For the first time in 130 years, the Zierings originally from Kalush, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Austria, Galicia, are finding each other.
Dr. Robert A.Liftig is an adjunct professor at Fairfield University. He is the editor of The Journal of the Empire State Administrators and Supervisors Association.
Readers are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing to Kolot. Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org