Uncovering the Past

Pete Vanlaw, white beard, glasses, baseball cap, brown jacket, smiling.
Your host, Pete Vanlaw

For over fifty years, I thought I was a Gentile.
But my heart attack changed everything.
It was a wake-up call that compelled me to discover who I really was and to explore my past and the lives of my family.

And it broke my father’s long-held code of silence.

That’s when I discovered I was a Jew.

This is my story.

Lily Vanlaw with young son Pete Vanlaw.
My mother, Lily Vanlaw, and me.

Family, Holocaust, and more . . .

Collage of eight photos from early 20th century, groups of people either dressed up for winter outings or wearing bathing costumes at waterfront.

For The Life of Me – The Backstory

All the trials and tribulations that led up to the actual creation of “For the Life of Me”.

Paragraph 175 and the Pink Triangle

What Did They Have In Common? In Poland, no one writes about the tragic fate of homosexuals during the Nazi era. Nothing has been published about the thousands of Polish homosexuals who became death camp victims. Ordinary embarrassment is the … Read More

Wittstock, Kristallnacht and the Rehfisch Family

Last fall I received a flyer from Amilie, my friend in Berlin, as a reminder that the 9th of November is the day to commemorate Kristallnacht. One could also consider it the beginning of the Holocaust. It is Amelie who … Read More

Ilonka’s Story – The Sequel

Ilonka Venier Alexander’s first story appeared very soon after I began my blog. She found one of my early posts; the one about discovering my own Jewish family, which prompted her to contact me as a kindred soul. Ilonka and … Read More

The Most Bizarre POW Camp During WWII – Curragh

A World War II Canadian bomber crew crash lands into friendly territory — but quickly becomes some of the most unlikely Prisoners of War ever.

Margot Rehfisch ca 1929

Diary of a Department Store: The Nachmann-Joseph-David Connection

For those of you who are new to my Blog, most of my stories are based on the research I originally did for my film, “For the Life of Me”, or new information that resulted from it. But now much … Read More

"Stopersteine" honoring the memory of Gerhard and Hedwig Rehfisch, my grand aunt and her son.

Serendipity – What does it mean?

serendipity: noun: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: a fortunate stroke of serendipity  Albert Rehfisch and family, Wittstock, 1918 The Internet is a strange animal. Like I’ve often said, “It’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing … Read More

Rendezvous in Hannover

This is dedicated to my dear friend, the late Ralph Hirsch1, who was so instrumental in helping me research my family. Ralph and I met on the Internet through the JewishGen web site. He quickly became my “go to guy” in … Read More

You May Have a Story to Tell

Is yours hidden behind family secrets? For instance:  1. You were never raised a Jew, but only learned later in life. 2. Your heritage was hidden behind a wall of family secrets. 3. Maybe it was hidden behind your own denial, or both. 4. Or, … Read More

Why Was Hans Grohmann an Enigma?

Ever since I began this blog, back in 2013, one of the many mysteries plaguing me has been the real story behind Hans Grohmann. As a victim of history, during his short life, he seems to have played a pivotal … Read More


I am Pete Vanlaw. Originally I created this blog to document my quest to uncover my family’s past, which had been hidden from me for over 50 years. This culminated in the making of a documentary film, For The Life of Me, that I am particularly proud of. I continue to write about my family’s history and the Holocaust in general, but this blog has expanded to include other aspects of my life growing up in Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry for 40+ years.

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Subjects I Also Cover:

Stories about unrelated subjects such as Music, Automobile Racing, Travel, Social Networking, and more.

Show Biz

Here are some posts about the 40 wonderful years I worked in entertainment and advertising.

Guest Authors

Stories from others that parallel or compliment my own.