Thursday, July 24, 2008


Today's the day. The flight to Warsaw leaves at 11:25 p.m., and then it's under way. One way I can tell this is not really a vacation is that I have butterflies, just like before a hearing in court. There are some reasons for that.

First, our research has been productive, but unsettling. Most of what we thought we knew about my grandparents' origins has been called into question.

My grandfather was supposed to be from Czyzewo (now called Czyzew-Osada), but now it seems his family lived mostly in Wollomin and Lodz. So we're going there, too. My grandmother's family was from cosmopolitan Odessa. She always said so. We KNEW it. Now it seems they came from a tiny village 200 kilometers to the east, the Ukrainian equivalent of Nowhere (and it seems that in Ukraine, Nowhere is really far from Anywhere You Want To Be). And the village was founded by Dutch Mennonites.

So things keep changing. This is the least organized trip I have taken since 1970, I drove across the country with Rich Zweig and Bob Aldrich. Actually, that trip was better organized than this one. We're spending the first five days in Warsaw, taking some side trips to places connected to my grandfather's family. Then, 25 days later, we'll fly home from Odessa. In between? Well, you can see the map. That's still roughly what we think we'll be doing. But it keeps changing.

How many concentration camp sites do we need to see? How long do we want to stay in Krakow, or Budapest? And will this aging corpus hold out through all of the cycling? A lot of my butterflies, I think, are anxiety over the physical challenge of the trip.

So, off we go, chasing the roots of the man in the photo, my father and Matt's grandfather, Milton Stewart -- they guy who changed the name from Schwartz to Stewart. As one of his cousins recently remembered him, he was always "a man on a mission." And maybe his most basic mission was to be American in every way, something he achieved by taking on a great deal of public service. He succeeded so well, in fact, that we don't know too much about his (and our) family -- and what we thought we knew turns out to be a bit shaky.

I couldn't resist the group photo on the right, a picture of Milt at an occasion honoring the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration, of which he was the first Chief Counsel. You can see where we get our fashion sense.

May the Schwartz be with you.
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