Kaminkers come together in Toronto

About 220 relatives of the Kaminker family, all descended from a common ancestor born about 1806 in Pomuran, Galicia, are preparing to come together for a four-day reunion this weekend in Toronto. Besides Toronto, participants are coming from Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Dallas and other American cities, as well as from Argentina, France, Ukraine and Israel.

Undoubtedly, the most famous name on the family tree is that of Simone Signoret (1921-1985), the acclaimed French actress whose real name was Kaminker and who was married to actor Yves Montand.

Another distinguished family personage is Alberto Jaime Kaminker, an Argentinian diplomat stationed in Paris who often looks in phone books for Kaminkers when he travels. He arrived here last week to experience a sequel to the much smaller gathering he hosted in Buenos Aires two years ago. Thanks to the internet, the family tree has been growing almost exponentially.

Alberto, one of several Kaminker genealogists, says his research gained serious momentum “20 years ago, the moment I met a cousin of Simone Signoret’s in Geneva.” Three years ago, he helped arrange a family expedition to several ancestral villages in Ukraine.

The Toronto branch of the family was established when Avraham Kaminker landed here in 1901. “He collected scrap for a few years, then rented houses and taught Hebrew,” said his grandson, David Kaminker, a consulting engineer. Other cousins settled here but the branches lost contact; some moved to Buffalo during the Depression. “Even in Toronto, I’ve met about 30 relatives that I never knew we had,” David said.

His father, the late Ben Kaminker, was an architect who designed the Hospital for Sick Children and an addition to the original Mount Sinai Hospital on Yorkville Ave. He was also a president of Shaarei Shomayim Congregation.

The surname may have derived “from the Polish word for stone,” David said. “It might have referred to a stone mason or something like that. There’s also a town called Kamink, so a Kaminker is a person who came from Kamink. Those are the two theories.”

Ron Kaminker, a 39-year-old financial analyst in Los Angeles, has found many cousins using random internet searches and data bases on the JewishGen web site (www.jewishgen.org). He once discovered a previously unknown family branch with 80 new relatives in only four hours. But he says a great-aunt, Mary Glass, deserves the greatest credit because she interviewed an elderly relative 30 years ago and recorded many details that would otherwise have been lost.

In 1998 Ron visited a new-found cousin in Sweden, an elderly Holocaust survivor who thought her entire family had perished. “It was the first contact with a Kaminker she’d had in 60 years, since probably before the war,” he said. “She was crying and bawling when she met me, even though I was a total stranger. It was incredibly moving.”

It is a curious misnomer to call the proposed gathering a “reunion” since most of the participants have never met each other before. But that’s what makes it exciting for Ron Kaminker and others who expect to learn something about themselves when they meet their new relatives.

David Kaminker and his wife, Sandra, have already learned a great deal about his family just in organizing the event. “I found out one thing,” he said. “The Kaminkers are not very organized people. We gave them deadlines to register but I don’t think they read their mail.”

Typical for such gatherings, the organizers have printed a family chart for posting in the hotel conference room. Stretching 33 feet across in width, it goes back seven generations and shows more than 1,000 relatives. In another three years, Alberto said, it may be twice as big again. ♦

© 2001