What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Things You Learn When You Listen

Yesterday we went to Mom's place and talked. Mom was in a talkative mood. And so we talked about the past, and family.

Now, I should point out that in all families, there are secrets. The range from the benign to the revelatory. There are secrets well guarded and never explained as well as secrets that can be deduced. There are secrets meant to be discovered and those that are detrimental to not knowing.

A secret that I knew about, one I had deduced, came out yesterday. See, while many people know their histories, some of us don't. Some people claim to be "Heinz 57" as their race (no, really, they do), and some of us really are.

My ancestry contains many lines. Mostly Germanic and Slavic, I'm also part French, Italian, Irish, Russian, and a modicum of a few others. The Russian, however, is where things get interesting. It's Russian Shtetl heritage. See, for a long time my Mom would talk about a person who stayed with my great grandparents. A man named Klas. For a long time, this old man was just that, someone my great grandparents knew who they let live with them. Klas was Russian, a merchant. A Russian who fled the Czar's purges. He gambled and loved strong garlic pickles. And, he was my great grandmother's father.

My great grandmother who married a man with the last name Grosenbaugh. My great grandfather who had these tumors that grew at the ends of his nerve endings and that eventually filled his lungs with fluids, drowning him on dry land. A disease with genetic traces back to southern Russia. Shtetl country. Who had children who fought in WWII, were captured by the Germans, and the family was very worried about them being transfered out of the POW camps to the concentration camps (one of them was, the camp was liberated within the week he had been transfered, saving his life). Who had my grandmother, who married a man with the last name Marpe. The Marpe's were silversmiths in Alsace who fled the old country as the Nazis came to power, literally ripping the photos off the wall of their shop. Who then had my mother, who bore me.

Now, I had fairly well pieced most of this together on my own from family habits and traits, the connection to the shtetl that is, the silversmiths fleeing Nazi persecution, the lineage of Grosebaugh. Last night Mom confirmed that Klas was my great, great grandfather.

Many families that came from the old country hid their past. I'm by far not the only person who is the product of families that converted from Judaism when they left the old world. Or even those families that pretended to convert. Or those families that didn't convert, but simply hid their religion as they made a new start, attempting to leave behind the prejudice and hatred, and adapted their lives as best they could. And hid their past from their own children. Whose kids figured it out anyway, and kept with other families with the same dynamic.

My great, great grandfather's name was Klas. He was a Russian Jew who either fled his homeland to escape persecution, or was forcibly ejected by Cossacks. I am descended from him through my mother, her mother, and my grandmother's mother. I am a Grosenbaugh through my mother and her mother. I am a Marpe through my mother.

My family has secrets. This was one they didn't hide very well. And it's one less than we had two days ago.

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