Fascinating Family History

A Look at the Radzewski Family Photo Collection

We all have family: father, mother, children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or just relatives casually come across at family reunions or known from photos. “The uncle, living abroad, with the daughter and the grandchildren – don’t you remember him?” We’ve all heard that.

Black and white photo of a girl and a woman at a door

The donor, Vera de Jong with her mother, Meta Krotoschiner in front of their home in Santiago, Chile, in 1952, following immigration © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Vera de Jong, née Krotoschiner-Radzewski

What happens when there’s no one to keep telling these stories? Only a photo of these people remain, if you’re lucky, sometimes a postcard that says nothing. This isn’t only the case in our private lives. As museum workers, we confront this challenge on a daily basis, especially when inventorying collections of donors’ family photographs. Each photo poses the same questions: Where was this? Who were these people – friends or relatives? What’s the story behind the image?

Fortunately we have help. Along with the photographs, donors provide and entrust us with their memories. Vera de Jong, born Krotoschiner-Radzewski, is one such example. Last year she gave our museum some 200 family photos (further information about the Photographic Collection on our website). As an academic trainee, it was then my task to inventory this collection and research its history. I was immediately taken by these charming images and, while researching them, understood their historical value, helping us uncover more than a century of family history.

Black and white photo of an man sitting at a table

Salomon Max Radzewski at the Residenz Atelier in Potsdam, 1880 © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Vera de Jong, née Krotoschiner-Radzewski

The oldest image is from 1880. It shows a man proudly posing in a photo studio in Potsdam. This is Russia-born Salomon Max Radzewski, Vera’s great-grandfather. He fled to East Prussia in the 19th century to avoid military conscription. There he met his wife, Bertha Levin, with whom he had three sons: Willy, Oskar and David, our donor’s grandfather. Willy died in the First World War while serving in the Prussian Army.

My research came together like a puzzle, piece by piece. The brothers Oskar and David Radzewski, seen in the photo sporting handsome mustaches, were inseparable. They appear in a number of images together, here with four, elegant women. Unfortunately, we have no information telling us where this photo was taken or who was accompanying them. Some questions can never be answered; even our donors don’t know everything.

Black and white photo of two men and three women in a park in front of a house

Brothers Oskar und David Radzewski with four, elegantly dressed women, around 1900, Germany
© Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Vera de Jong, née Krotoschiner-Radzewski

Another photo shows David Radzewski 15 years later, now married to Frieda Neustadt, with their twins, Berndt and Meta. Meta, our donor Vera’s mother, immigrated to Chile in 1938 with her parents aboard the ship, Patria. In Santiago, she would meet her husband: Vera’s father, Walter Krotoschiner.

Berndt fled to Palestine and there took the Hebrew name, Benjamin. Vera’s grandfather and father, David Radzewski and Walter Krotoschiner, respectively, both died in Santiago. In 1967, Vera immigrated to the U.S. with her mother, Meta. First, though, they went to Europe to visit the grandmother, Frieda, who had since returned to Frankfurt am Main. That’s when Vera met her to-be husband, Kurt de Jong, whom she later followed back to Frankfurt. Her mother, too, would eventually return.

Black and white photo of a woman on the left, a man on the right and two babies in the middle

David and Frieda Radzewski with their twins, Meta and Berndt, 1916 in Wriezen an der Oder © Jewish Museum Berlin, gift of Vera de Jong, née Krotoschiner-Radzewski

Receiving a family collection from a donor followed by our research are just the first steps in a long, often exciting and sometimes difficult journey: We size up the photographs, check their condition, describe what they show, and enter everything into our in-house database.

Through my curatorial work with the permanent exhibit (further information about the permanent exhibiton on our website), I know full-well how important these measures are. One false piece of data in the database can wreak havoc on an exhibit. Perhaps an item may not fit in the vitrine. A complete inventorying, comprehensive research of the family history and historical context, and documentation of the results of that research that is reproducible by colleagues are absolutely vital to our work with museum objects.

We all have families and corresponding histories. The countless family collections of photographs, correspondence, documents and objects of all kinds comprise the centerpiece of the Jewish Museum Berlin’s collection. They allow us to research and present decades or longer of German-Jewish family histories, and make them available to our visitors.

Julia Kouzmenko hopes to encourage blog readers to explore their own family histories and share one or two fascinating discoveries in the comment field.

In memory of Meta Krotoschiner, born Radzewski. She died on 18 October 2015 in Frankfurt am Main. She was 99.

Leave a comment