My sister has often looked aghast or simply stood back in disbelief as I unveiled my latest dream adventure or far-fetched vision for a better life. She’s given up trying to talk me out of my plans and is usually content to stand on the sidelines and cluck her tongue at me. We are a study in contrasts. She’s watched me turn my life upside down more than a few times while I am constantly encouraging her to shake things up a little. Our move to Germany was yet another upheaval she had to endure, made more difficult by our mother’s anger and distress over our decision.
But something changed for my sister as she saw me sift through the layers of our family history and lay claim to our German Jewish past. The discovery of a Holocaust victim within our own family suddenly made my journey become hers as well. She is now as determined as I am to set the family record straight (see Rewriting Family History) and create a memorial for our great-aunt Meta. She has embarked on a frenzy of genealogical research of her own and is currently embroiled in a battle with her corporate employer to obtain permission to attend Meta’s memorial ceremony in June. She’s even decided to apply for her German citizenship!
I spent the past week in Los Angeles with my sister where we finally had a chance to reflect on all the recent family discoveries and events. As we chatted over dinner on the night before my departure, we wondered about how our eight cousins from my father’s side of the family would react to Meta’s Untold Story which appeared last week on The Jewish Writing Project. What version of our family history did they hear as children and how will they feel about the “woman in the shadows” who was left behind? Will they want to look back into such a painful past or keep the door shut? Three of the cousins grew up in South Africa, and although I have met them, we have not maintained contact with each other. Could Meta’s story and my journey back to our family roots create a new bond between us?
As the only grandchild from my family of Holocaust survivors who has returned to Germany to reclaim my heritage, will my experiences reverberate with other family members as they did with my sister? Perhaps it’s time to reach out into the diaspora and find out.