Seeking Kin: Separated by a century, an ocean and religion, a family reconnects

In Budapest in 1939, Hanna Nisman, seated, second from right, joining relatives celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of her grandparents, Miholy and Malvin Pollacseg Fuhrer, seated at center. (Courtesy Hanna Nisman) ()

In Budapest in 1939, Hanna Nisman, seated, second from right, joining relatives celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of her grandparents, Miholy and Malvin Pollacseg Fuhrer, seated at center. (Courtesy Hanna Nisman) ()

This 1911 advertisement was placed by Hanna Nisman’s great-uncle, Nicholas Partos, who started a chain of drug stores in New York. ()

This 1911 advertisement was placed by Hanna Nisman’s great-uncle, Nicholas Partos, who started a chain of drug stores in New York. ()

The “Seeking Kin" column aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends.

BALTIMORE (JTA) — Hanna Nisman never dreamt she had Christian relatives. Lynne Hoe wasn’t sure she had Jewish ones.

But Nisman, an Israeli, and Hoe, of Tulsa, Okla., are second cousins who this week were alerted to each other’s existence by “Seeking Kin.”

“Wow, I am about to faint from excitement,” Nisman, 88, of Kibbutz Ein Dor, said when told Sunday that her relatives in America had been located. “That’s really something!”

Nisman, a Budapest native who survived the Holocaust and reached prestate Israel in 1947, had long wondered what became of Miklos Pollacseg, the youngest of her grandmother’s nine siblings. She knew little else beyond that he had left Hungary for the United States in about 1902 at age 20 and adopted the surname Partos. Nisman was not aware even of where Partos had settled.

But something Nisman recalled proved crucial in regrafting the branches of her family tree. The key detail was Partolax, the laxative that Partos developed and named for himself. Nisman remembered that Partos became rich from the laxative soon after writing to his brother Sandor Pollacseg, a physician, to observe that Americans suffered from diarrhea. Pollacseg either invented the pharmaceutical or advised Partos how to produce it, she said.

An online search conducted by “Seeking Kin” yielded the gem of a March 28, 1911, advertisement for Partolax in the New York Evening Call newspaper. The ad touted the virtues of Partolax, available at Partos Drug Store, 160 Second Avenue, the corner of 10th Street, in Manhattan.

A subsequent search of the 1910 U.S. census revealed that Dr. Nicholas Partos, apparently the store’s owner, was 32 years old and lived with his wife, Cornelia, 30, and their 6 1/2-year-old daughter, Lillian, at 923 Fifth Ave.; an 18-year-old woman named Esther Orosz lived with the family. One document said that Partos owned a chain of drug stores. An article on the social pages of The New York Times reported on Lillian’s marriage to Armand Hovell on Dec. 23, 1928, at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Yet another search yielded the obituary of the Hovells’ daughter, Anne Hovell Dew, who died in 2008 in St. Petersburg, Fla., on her 71st birthday. The article mentioned Anne’s devout Christian observance, her authoring a book on emotional conflicts and her interest in family reunions.
The obituary listed the names of Dew’s husband and six children, and of her siblings and their hometowns.

Reached at her Tulsa home on Sunday morning, Hoe, Dew’s sister, evinced surprise. She’d long given up hope of learning about her grandfather’s roots or of locating any kin from Hungary, where she figured they still lived. Hoe remembered Partos very well — he lived to be 103 — but he seemed as if he “didn’t really care about his family” back in Europe, she said, adding that his attitude seemed odd.

Hoe said that Partos studied pharmacology in Austria and met her grandmother, also from Hungary, in New York. Partos was a Christian Scientist, but some in the family wondered if he was Jewish, she said. “We weren’t sure if he was Jewish,” but no one questioned him about it, Hoe said.

She recalled Partos as being an inveterate salesman who made and lost fortunes in the pharmaceutical and commodities businesses. For a while he sold swimming pools. Hoe did not recognize the product name Partolax, but said that her grandfather “got in trouble” with the law because the product “was sugar” rather than a true remedy.

An online search confirmed part of Hoe’s recollection. A 1932 book, "High and Low Financiers," written by two officials of New York State’s Bureau of Securities, mentions Partos among the era’s great swindlers. The American Accounting Association’s review of the book said that Partos and other “famous financial crooks” were “of the handsome, confidence inspiring ‘banker’s type,’ who easily succeeded in conquering the affections and the pocket books of all they came in contact with, be they male or female lambs.”

Partos never discussed those troubles but “always talked” about his six brothers back in Hungary, all of whom he said were doctors, Hoe said. She did not know that Partos also had sisters, that there were 10 children in all and that his surname had been Pollacseg.

Back in northern Israel, Nisman ticked off the names of her mother’s aunts and uncles, and of their spouses and children, as if she were still living among them. Only one of the nine siblings who remained in Hungary survived the Holocaust: Etta, a sister of Nisman’s maternal grandmother, Malvin Pollacseg Fuhrer. Etta Pollacseg settled in Israel and never married, and before her death in 1970 at age 95 typed a 50-page reminiscence of the family members, including Partos, that Nisman still has. The granddaughter of Sandor Pollacseg also lives in Israel; her father, a journalist, had departed Hungary in the 1930s. Nearly everyone else was killed during the Holocaust, including Nisman’s brother, parents and grandmother.

Raised in Nyregyhaza, near Budapest, Nisman was active in the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. Nisman and her family lived for many years with her grandparents, who owned a vineyard and a quarry. Best of all, Nisman said, her grandparents’ house featured indoor plumbing.

An Auschwitz survivor, Nisman came to Israel, living first on the Nachlat Yehuda settlement in the South before helping to found Ein Dor, near Mount Tabor, in early 1948. Now a widow, Nisman has three sons. Her first two great-grandchildren are due to be born in January.

Nisman hopes to speak soon with her newly discovered American relatives, but one of her sons may have to help translate on the telephone because she said her English capability is lacking. And she will be interviewed soon on "Hamador L’chipus Krovim" (Searching for Relatives Bureau), the Israeli radio program whose host had alerted "Seeking Kin" to Nisman’s interest in finding her American relatives.

Of her Israeli relatives, Hoe said, “To know that there are still some people — that there’s a connection — I’m thrilled.” Still, to learn that her flesh and blood were killed in the Holocaust hits hard, she said.

"I always felt terrible about it,” Hoe, 70, said of the Holocaust. “But to know that it happened to my family, I can’t believe it. It changes who I am, which is fine, but I have to think about it, understand it.” 

(Please email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you would like “Seeking Kin” to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends. Please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. “Seeking Kin” is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people.) 

NEXT STORY