A story of war, loss, and why good data has ALWAYS mattered: how a phone book reunited a family

A story of war, loss–and data: Talking to my 90-year-old father-in-law Joseph today, who survived WWII by fleeing the Nazis invading Poland and ended up as a Soviet soldier driving trucks in Siberia, a far cry from his childhood of daily Hebrew school, doting siblings, and three dogs..

After the war, when Joseph returned to Warsaw to find his family, there was no Google search to help him. He had to look in the phone book. Nobody with his name. So he traveled to Krakow, where, when he looked in the phone book, he found one man with his last name–miraculously, his uncle. My father-in-law fell into his uncle’s arms, which led to a reunion with my father-in-law’s only surviving brother.

Without that phone book, my father-in-law might never have found what was left of his family in Poland.

I am humbled by that, and amazed. Long before real time search and open data, good information brought a family together.

But questions remain, and they have to do with civil servants:

What Polish government functionary decided that updating the phone book was a priority, in the aftermath of that terrible war? Who carried out the job? How many people did the tedious work of collecting data by hand, walking from home to home, typesetting the directory, delivering it to homes?

Could they see, in those letters and numbers, a young Jewish soldier searching desperately for his family?

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply