“The discovery of my family lineage through ancestry, and the role that this played in my desire to preserve history.”
In 2018 I had ankle surgery which side-lined me from my work as a Chef. There would be no walking for six months, and I found it imperative to have a creative project to keep me from going bonkers during the lengthy recovery.
When my dad passed away in 1995, a small suitcase came into my possession. The suitcase contained all the artifacts and souvenirs from my dad’s 1933 six-week excursion through Europe. He was on the way to the Boy Scout World Jamboree, held in Godollo, Hungary, during the first
two weeks in August. The trip took place during the height of the depression. I was surprised to find he went on the journey with fifty dollars in his pocket. My dad was sixteen-almost seventeen at the time.
I had every intention of returning to the suitcase, but for the time being, I left it for an occasion when I could devote adequate attention to investigating the contents. It took me twenty-three years to return to it.
A week before surgery, I finally got down to business by waking the suitcase from its quiet repose.
I felt like I was digging into a buried treasure. To my surprise, I found a rare jewel-my dad’s journal, filled with details from his entire trip through Europe, beginning on day one, leaving the Port of New York. Dad’s journal was full of information, recorded daily, about what he saw and experienced.
As I surveyed the suitcase’s contents, bits and pieces of conversations about his trip and time with the Boy Scouts shared with me in my youth came rushing back to the forefront of my mind.
While reading the journal, one entry, in particular, shook me, causing my spine to tighten. While in Vienna, Dad wrote about a conversation he had with a Hitler Youth. The conversation took place while he strolled the streets of Vienna with some of his troopmates. It was there they caught the attention of a boy about the same age as them.
The boy’s name was Wolfren Wolften. He was a former Boy Scout, now a Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth uniform consisted of a brown shirt and black shorts, with a Sam Bowie belt stretched across the chest. On the sleeves of the shirt were Nazi armbands. Upon the head, a cap. To some degree, the Hitler Youth uniform seemed modeled after the Boy Scout uniform.
Wolfren spoke of a speech Hitler gave soon after coming into power as Chancellor of Germany on January 30 th , 1933. In the spring of 1933, Hitler proclaimed that no Austrian or German boy would attend the Jamboree to be held later that year, during the summer. Furthermore, Hitler decreed it compulsory to join the Hitler Youth. All boys of a certain age were forced to quit all other groups and activities. This young Austrian boy lamented that he could not attend the Jamboree. My dad wrote about conversing with him for some time. They had many interests in common.
They spoke at length about the Jamboree and what would take place. Later that evening, after returning to the hotel, dad wrote about the boy and the conversation that took place, concluding,
“I found him to be a fine fellow.”
That one entry, precisely those eight words, caused me to pause. Simultaneously, an idea began to form in my mind.
My dad did not know at the time that in ten years he would marry a Jewish immigrant whose extended family was murdered by the Nazis. I felt compelled to write at that moment, deciding to preserve the historical events conveyed by my dad’s writings.
I became fascinated with the last leg of dad’s trip and the four days he spent traveling through Germany before boarding the ship at Bremen back to the United States.
Dad detailed what he saw while traveling through Germany after the Jamboree.
He witnessed a massive rally and parade of German tanks, trucks, well over 100k armed forces, all marching through the streets of Munich. He noted that the Nazi symbol of the swastika was ubiquitous throughout Munich, with flags and banners covering every government building and many private homes. With all the tanks, trucks, and troops, the event was directly in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. While in Nuremberg, he wrote about a Hitler Youth rally with forty thousand members, all marching in formation while goose-stepping.
At that time, the world, by and large, had no idea what was going on in Germany. History would show that France and Great Britain knew. While the world was aware that Hitler was in power as Chancellor, the Treaty violations were not common knowledge. Dad saw these events taking place and wrote of them.
The second part of preserving my family history comes from my mom’s journey and her family.
While growing up in a suburb of Rochester, New York, I did not know about my family ties to the small border town of Baranovichi, Poland, now called Belarus. My mom told my siblings and me fables about her family, her ancestry, and like most children, we believed her.
We were not aware of the hidden anguish she carried, knowing her extended family died at the hands of Nazis. I was not aware I was Jewish until I was seven years old, and at that age, I had no understanding of what that meant.
My mom wanted us to believe her carefully constructed story of her upbringing. She desired to protect her children from the prejudice and hatred she suffered when first coming to the U.S. after marrying my dad in the canal zone in Panama in July of 1944, during the 2 nd World War.
My mom’s mother left Baranovichi in 1919 after World War I, traveling to Argentina. My grandmother traveled from Baranovichi to the Polish Corridor strip of land along the River Vistula to escape, traveling to Switzerland where she acquired a passport in Bern. My mom’s father’s journey to Argentina is somewhat of a mystery. Some accounts say he served to fight with the British Army during World War I, and at its conclusion, he took an British freighter to Argentina.
My grandparents allegedly had family living in Buenos Aires, where former Baranovichi residents Pauline Turetsky and Harry Silberstein re-connected and married. My mom’s birth certificate is from Buenos Aries, verifying she was born there.
The other facts of how my grandparents came to Buenos Aires remain unverified. Unfortunately, no one living can attest to the details of the journey—all who could have passed on.
My thirst for family history came too late in life to uncover the many mysteries that exist today. These perplexities haunt the recesses of my mind, leaving questions unanswered.
While the facts of my mom’s marriage to my dad are verified, I found a newspaper announcement of my parent’s wedding, written by my dad’s father, stating the contrary.
To compound matters and create further dissimulation, my grandfather published the wedding announcement of the marriage of his son “to the daughter of an Englishmen and a Mexican American woman.”
Clearly, he wanted to do everything he could to gaslight friends and family to prevent them from discovering that his eldest son married a Jewish immigrant.
Five years ago, I purchased a genealogy test. It was high time I took action to unravel the never-ending yarn ball of questions that kept me awake at night.
Another thing-my mom’s family dispersed from South America after sojourning through Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador. I have a photograph of a family passport from Peru to Ecuador with my mom, siblings, and parents.
My mom went to Panama to work, where she met and married my American dad. Some of her family moved to Mexico City from Ecuador, some went to Canada, and some eventually landed in Tel Aviv, Israel. I knew very few of my cousins or their extended families. My mom told me that they were all Orthodox and wouldn’t have anything to do with me, seeing that I wasn’t. I
took those words at face value.
I filled out the perfunctory questionnaires on the genealogy site, adding details to my profile. Using caution, I kept personal information to a bare minimum.
The results that came back astounded me, confirming me to be 49.9% Ashkenazi Jewish on my mom’s side of the test. I felt a small victory over the doubt that assuaged my mind for years. The test also revealed that my Haplogroup of DNA showed my ancestors originated in Israel two
thousand years ago and dispersed from there, eventually landing in Eastern Europe, Poland. Finally, I felt like I was getting somewhere.
History confirms that the 2 nd diaspora of the Jewish people occurred with the Roman conquest of Israel two thousand years ago. The pieces of the puzzle started to come together.
Three months passed, and one day, an email arrived from the genealogical site. A man was inquiring about my family and me. He had the matching last name as my mom, but I had never heard of this person before. While initially suspect, I nevertheless began conversing with him through emails for several days. I subjected him to a series of hoop-jumping for my peace of mind. At first, I thought he was a quack or someone trying to obtain personal information. He satisfactorily completed the many tests to authenticate what he said, and I met through email, my first cousin, once removed. He is the son of my mother’s brother, the second of three sons.
This one cousin wrote to our extended family across the US, Canada, Israel, and Mexico, introducing me as Matildé’s youngest daughter, asking my newly found family to reach out to me. Because of the genealogy search, I’ve discovered over one hundred cousins- some first, second, third, and fourth, but a family, nonetheless. Undoubtedly, my investment in the testing
was well founded.
Between my father’s journal and the search for my mother’s family, I’ve authored a book based on some of the facts I’ve uncovered. While it is historical fiction, my book weaves a story of suspense and intrigue based on my father’s four-day excursion through Germany. By authoring this book, I can preserve some of the historical facts of my father’s trip along with certain aspects of my mom’s life before coming to the United States.
I’ve felt it is of the utmost importance to preserve my family’s history for posterity’s sake. This book is a legacy for future generations.
I am the first person in my family to author a book.
You can get Cathy’s book at various book outlets including those below.