Travel Agent's Mission To Seek Family Roots In Polish Village
By HEIDI PRESS
When Southfield travel agent
Jules Doneson goes on a trip, it's
mostly likely to investigate a
destination for his clients or for his
own pleasure. But on his most
recent trip to Eastern Europe,
Doneson, accompanied by his wife,
Ann, had a different agenda. He
was determined to find the town
from which his and his wife's family
The Philadelphia native began
his journey looking into his family's
Jules and Ann Doneson visit the only remnant of Jewish life in Suwalki, Poland, a wall
created of fragments of Jewish gravestones. A fragment on right was placed upside down.
available? Kitchenettes, sitting
rooms, adjoining rooms, or
• What sort of beds are
available? Double, queen size,
king size, cribs, cots or roll-away
• Are there extra charges for
cots or cribs?
• Do cribs adhere to present
• Do cribs come equippped
with bumper pads and sheets?
• Is my room guaranteed?
How do I guarantee it?
• Is there room service?
• What are the restaurant or
coffee shop hours?
• Is there a buffet? Do
children eat free in any
• Is babysitting available?
• What activities are
• What are the parking
• If you will arrive late with
sleeping children, call ahead so
the room is arranged. Often cribs
or cots aren't delivered until after
• If you plan to pick a hotel
as you drive, use a reputable
guidebook. At an early afternoon
stop, call ahead for a room.
• if you'll have a kitchenette,
ask what is provided.
• Some hotels provide a
small refrigerator for your room
upon request. Ask if there will be
• Extra money spent on
larger accommodations (adjoining
rooms, sitting room, kitchenette)
may mean a real vacation for
• If traveling in peak season,
camp grounds and hotels should
be booked months in advance.
What if we're staying with
relatives or friends?
Ask them what sort of
past late this fall when he attended
the World Travel Congress in
Budapest, Hungary. He and his wife
arranged to take a side trip to
Poland following the convention to
seek out the small town of Suwalki
(also known as Suvalk).
They engaged a Polish-Jewish
guide, Bolek Zajac, who frequently
leads United Jewish Appeal mission
participants in Poland. A young Pole
was hired to be the driver.
The aim of the Donesons'
search was to find some traces of
the Rosenthal, Donsky, Winkelman
and Berger families, from whom
they are descended. But their
Suwalki visit was to prove fruitless.
"There was nothing left,"
Doneson said sadly. "My father's
Talmud Torah is now a library. The
cemetery was razed. There are no
Jews, no synagogues." There was
one remnant of the Jewish
community Doneson found — a wall
of fragments of Jewish gravestones.
Doneson went to the Suwalki
city hall to try and find "family
connections," but any records that
may have existed were destroyed by
the Nazis. However, Doneson did
make one discovery on his visit. He
met the only Jew left in the village,
Adelson, a brewery worker, lives
with his non-Jewish wife in the
small village. He has a son who is
an actor with the Yiddish theater in
Warsaw and a daughter who lives in
New York. He has no contact with
accommodations they've planned
for you. Tell them what you'll
If you'll be staying with Aunt
Marilyn or Grandma and
Grandpa, send them a friendly
letter outlining your needs.
Explain how to minimally child-
proof their home (moving
breakable items off reachable
shelves, checking hanging cords
and exposed outlets),
• Recognize and enforce
your hosts' rules even if they are
different from your own.
• Prepare your children for
your hosts' different rules and
Susan Shlom is a local artist
and art therapist. Ellyce Field is a
columnist for the Detroit News
and a contributor to several
publications, including The
Jewish News. The book is
available at local bookstores.
any other Jews, except when he
visits his son in Warsaw, where
there are 600 Jews.
Doneson said the guide Zajac
made a long introduction to Adelson
so "he wouldn't be frightened" by
the strangers, whom he might have
feared were police agents. Doneson
said Adelson was happy living and
socializing with his gentile Suwalki
A life-long curiosity about his
antecedents' birthplace inspired
Doneson to make the trip. He had
He had made a pledge
that before he died he
would visit the small
made a pledge that before he died
he would visit the small village. In
preparation for the trip, he called a
genealogist who he knew had spent
a month researching in Suwalki. It
was the genealogist who told him to
seek out Adelson. "Everybody
knows Adelson," the genealogist
But finding Adelson was not the
only "discovery" Doneson made in
Suwalki. Prior to leaving for Poland,
he wrote to the Protector of Jewish
Monuments in Poland, Benjamin
Niesenbaum, to get information
about his family. However, by the
time of his departure, he still hadn't
heard from Niesenbaum. Doneson
decided to make the trip anyway.
During a bus ride in Poland,
the driver made a rest stop at a
local hotel. The Donesons decided
to leave the bus to browse in the
gift shop. They noticed a crowd in
the lobby staring at what for them
was an unusual sight — a bearded
Orthodox rabbi. It turned out that
the rabbi was the rosh yeshivah of
the Sulwalker Yeshivah in
Jerusalem, who was in Poland on
business. It was in the midst of this
crowd that Doneson found
Niesenbaum. When Doneson asked
Niesenbaum why he never
responded to his letter, Niesenbaum
told him he had never received it.
Niesenbaum tried to convince
Doneson not to go to Suwalki, but
Doneson was determined to trace
his family's roots.
Doneson estimated that there
are about 3,000 Jews in Poland
today. There is one synagogue in
Warsaw and there are two in
Cracow, where there also is a .
Doneson went to Poland "just
basically to see where my family
came from." But the trip will have a
"I probably will never forget any
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS