My wife, Marcia, and I visited Grobina two years ago, more than a century after my father Julius left at age ten. He told me very little about his family in Grobina and had early memories of living close enough to a castle to hear Nobles playing lawn bowls. Little else was told and after the war he tried to find members of his family in Europe without any success.
We had no idea where Grobina is situated; it lies about ten kilometers from Liepaja (Libau). Originally a Viking settlement, the town had a rich history and over the centuries it was known as Grobin, Grebin, Soeborg and Seeburg. It has been recorded that during the Viking Age, Grobina was a centre of Scandinavian settlement on the Baltic Sea with many burial mounds scattered among three cemeteries in the vicinity. The castle sat atop the hill, as seen in this postcard circa the turn of the century, and inside the walls there is now an outdoor theatre. I was so excited to see before my eyes what my father had remembered from the 1880s and described to me during the 1940s in South Africa. The view from the inside of the ruins is of course very different from the picture postcard view taken from a distance many years ago.
The Crest of Grobina.
In a little garden in the town we found a stone sculpture. The emblem of Grobina is on the right stone; it is a crane, holding a stone in the lifted foot, to signify that inhabitants of Grobina should be vigilant. In 1695 the Duke of Kurzeme, Friedrich Casimirus, granted town rights and arms to Grobina, then called Grobin in German.
Family from Grobina.
Grobina has a population of between 4000 to 5000 people. For such a small town it is surprising how many Jewish families originated from there. There were the Blumberg, Hirschhorn, Michelsohn, Bub, Friedman and Judelowitsch families and as I have since discovered my relatives among some of those families. 50 years ago my late father, Julius (Sundel) Blumberg, was unable to find any surviving family in Latvia. With the passage of time and with the help of the internet, google, websites, Jewishgen and assistance from fellow researchers I have been able to find out more about the family that lived in Grobina. With the assistance of a recently discovered cousin, Rita Bogdanova from Riga, I connected with and last summer met a cousin, Minna Reichert, and her daughter Pauline Crane. Minna, to my amazement, had direct knowledge of the family and life in Grobina. Her grandmother was Masha Blumberg, my late father’s aunt and my great-aunt. Having immigrated from South Africa to Canada I was surprised to find a cousin alive and living in California. Masha, my great-aunt, had lived and died in Grobina her daughter Livia (Minna’s mother) was also born there. Minna told me about her grandparents, Masha and Peretz. It was not unusual in Grobina for members of the Blumberg family to marry into the Hirschhorn family. While Peretz Hirschhorn married Masha Blumberg, another Peretz Hirschorn, a nephew, married Reche (Rochel) Blumberg. In addition Scheine Hirschhorn married Chaim Blumberg (a nephew of Masha).
The Hirschorn Sculpure Garden.
As a result of connecting with Minna and Pauline we were invited to become “honourary Hirschhorns” and attended their reunion last year. We met special members that family including Gene Hirschhorn who has extensively documented the family history and Donald and Sandra Hirschhorn with Pauline Crane were the main organizers of the very successful event attended by over 100 family members. We then also discovered that a nephew of my great-aunt was Joseph Hirschorn (originally spelled Hirschhorn). He was an avid art collector and in 1966 donated his collection of 4,000 and paintings and 1,500 sculptures to the Smithsonian museums. In 1966 the US Congress voted the funds for an art gallery and sculpture garden in his name on the Washington Mall to house his prized treasures.