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.

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Latest Post

Yellow manuscript cover titled never forget -- the story of the lost transport.

What was “The Lost Transport”?

[Story updated from its original July 17, 2013 posting. ] I first heard of The Lost Transport when I was researching my Uncle Paul Rehfisch. He was Mom’s older brother, who fled to Amsterdam with his wife, in 1938 after Kristallnacht, to escape the Nazis. His wife was Käthe Franken. They lived together at Jan van Eijckstraat 11 until their arrest and deportation by the Nazis in 1943. Like so many other deported Dutch Jews,…

Twins steven and marion hess pose for portrait photo in their fancy Urker costumes.

The Hess Twins

It was somewhere around 2016 when I’d been exploring the story of my uncle, Paul Rehfisch, his family and his fate in the hands of the Nazis, Bergen-Belsen, and ultimately “the Lost Transport”. It was during this time that I found a guy online who had been on the same train with his family. But unfortunately he could not remember much about it because he had been so young at the time. But after a…

Family, Holocaust, and more . . .

Two older men wearing winter coats and knit caps place white roses near stepping stone plaques marking persons taken fro their homes by Nazis in the 1930s.

Bark’s Report: Pogrom/Kristallnacht Commemoration

In 1938, the Nazis harassed Jewish families all over Germany, including the small city of Wittstock. Today, anti-Semitic sentiments have returned. In contrast, a good 60 participants took a stand at a Wittstock pogrom commemoration. Journalist Christian Bark follows up on a November 9, 2023 commemoration of the 1938 Kristallnacht AKA “Night of Broken Glass”…

1918 portrait of five members of the Rehfisch family, including a young Lily Rehfisch, and a second, modern-day photo of Pete Vanlaw.

What is a Christian Bark?

A german journalist connects with Pete Vanlaw to publish an article about commemoration of the 1938 Kristallnacht in the town of Wittstock, Germany.

Exterior view of grand berlin department store, h joseph and company, in the 1930s.

A New Look at “Diary of a Department Store”

This is new information about what actually happened when the Nazis “Aryanized” the Berlin Department Store founded in 1900 by my grand uncle, “Sally” Rehfisch, and his partner, Hermann Joseph. More details about the people involved, before, during and after the war, in this update of my 2019 post, “Diary of a Department Store”.

Five 10 cm square bronze colored metal plaques embedded in cement in a grid, each engraved with a single person taken away by nazi soldiers during world war two.


The German artist Gunter Demnig, who originated the idea of the commemorative stepping stones, remembers the victims of the Nazis by installing memorial brass plaques on the pavement in front of their last known address. He cites the Talmud saying that “a person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten.” The Stolpersteine…

Very young, well-dressed girl with a bow in her hair and carrying a doll steps out of a train car onto a station platform as other children peer at her.

In My Pocket

This is the true story and inspirational legacy of a little girl, who fled the Nazis in 1939, and ended up in Scotland, where she lived the rest of her life. And currently, the affect it’s had on Scotland, Germany and now Perth, Australia.

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 reason that scholars remain silent about Nazism’s homosexual victims. Robert Biedroń, “Nazism’s Pink Hell” Holocaust…

Portrait of five members of the Rehfisch family, including a young Lily Rehfisch

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 continues to be an incredible source of historical information about my family and my relatives. …

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 I have stayed in touch over the years while she began writing primarily about the…

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.


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.