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, you discovered a fascinating story about a relative that’s worth telling. Please sample any or all of the ones we’ve already told: Sharon Squires’, “A Study in Denial” (upper left) Ilonka Alexander’s, “The Pain of Family Secrets” (center) Frannie Sheridan’s “Never Tell … Read More

DADDY, DADDY, LOOK A RELATIVE!

by Joan Durham I was five when I first met Ruth Herzog. It was at Rumplemeyer’s in New York City, a popular after theater restaurant known for its pastries and thick hot chocolate. With its stained glass windows and ice cream sundaes, it was a magical place for children. Ruth was a hostess there and knew my father. That was the moment when I ran to her, squealing, “Daddy, Daddy, look, a relative!” Yet I didn’t remember any of that incident for … Read More

What Does it Mean to be a Jew? Part 2

Here’s a quick recap of Part 1 and where we left off: What we’ve been dealing with is the the result of a series of questions that my “What’s the Story” guru, STACIE CHAIKEN, suggested I explore as a way of finding a way of creating a story arc for my embryonic film project, which later became “FOR THE LIFE OF ME”. Her last question in Part 1 was: Did I ever get any clues that our family was Jewish? But you’ll have to go back to Part 1 to find out, in … Read More

What Does it Mean to be a Jew? Part #1

“JEW” was a word I often heard from other kids, but rarely from my parents.  For any of you reading this, I have to clarify the title since it only relates to me. That’s because it wasn’t until I reached the ripe old age of 52 that I discovered I was a Jew. But then WHY, you ask, is this bit of self-evaluation and revelation even here? It was the result of an exercise that my “What’s the Story” guru, Stacie Chaiken, asked me to write as a … Read More

Willie and Kurt Weinlaub

Anatomy of a Family Feud – Act 2

To recap where we left off at the end of Act 1, Lily’s recent return from her six week sabbatical back home to Hannover was not a happy one. First she was greeted with the news that Kurt had lost what remained of their savings because of some bad investments he’d made. Then she learned that her trip back to Hannover did not sit well with her mother-in-law, Gertrude, who accused her of turning her back on her favorite son, just when he needed her support the most. … Read More

Anatomy of a Family Feud – Act 1

feud | fyood | noun: a state of prolonged mutual hostility, typically between two families  Take a fistful of jealously, add a  share of resentment, some greed and mistrust, then inject a mother’s suicide, wrap it all in a cloak of secrecy and you have the makings of a full blown family feud. And that’s exactly what I discovered when at age 50, I suddenly learned the truth behind my father’s firmly entrenched secrets, beginning with the fact that our family was Jewish. … Read More

From Kreuzburg to Hollywood: Finding Walter Wicclair

This was posted in JewishGen’s “Success Stories” on June 2, 2015    As incredible as it may sound, I didn’t learn that my family was Jewish until I was 51 years old. That secret was sustained while I was growing up as an only child, knowing only my parents, and with little knowledge about any relatives living or dead. Forget about their history because there was precious little information forthcoming from my parents. But after their passing, I decided to get … Read More

The Day I Learned I was a Jew

 Shock & Awe So, how would you feel if you learned at the ripe old age of 53 that you were a Jew? Probably come as a shock, right? It did for me, but not in quite the way you’d expect. It happened 27 years ago. But before I get into it, you need to know about the events that happened two years earlier, after I’d suffered a heart attack. It was during my hospitalization when my parents had come … Read More

A Study in Denial – Sharon’s Story

by Sharon S.

“My husband tried to tell me his mother was a German Jew, a few months before we were married. I was shocked, but tried to focus on the German, ignoring the Jewish part.” 

Sharon S.

Read More

Living with an Insane Parent

Life with an Insane Parent – Part 2

 Part 1 introduced the notes I took in 1993 regarding my mother’s mental state nearly fifty years after she’d been institutionalized. That’s when she finally revealed to me the secrets within the netherworld that she had created inside her head. Part 1 also introduced the “Heroes” or “Good Guys”, who were some of the inhabitants of her secret place. In Part 2 we get to the “Villains” or “Bad Guys”, the other inhabitants. It would have been so much easier to believe that my mother was NOT insane, just seriously … Read More

Life with an Insane Parent

 Life with an Insane Parent – Part 1

In 1944 my mother suffered a severe emotional breakdown, and was committed to a mental hospital in Compton, CA. Although released seven months later, she never fully recovered. But it would be another 50 years before she finally allowed me into her secret nether world, the place into which she frequently retreated after she returned home. That was in 1993, when I began writing down her diabolical descriptions. It was the only way I could follow the incredibly complex inner world that she created as her sanctuary. These conversations continued periodically for the next four years. … Read More

Gertrude alone

A Suicide in My Family – Madness Monday

What is suicide if not a form of madness? Why else would a person choose to take their own life? That is a question that has plagued me ever since I learned that my grandmother killed herself many years ago. In retrospect, it became a double tragedy, because years later it led to my mother’s madness – an emotional breakdown that caused her to be institutionalized and from which she never fully recovered. But to understand how this all came about, we have to … Read More

“Never Tell Anyone”: Frannie Sheridan’s Story

by Frannie Sheridan Frannie contacted me a few weeks ago in response to Marc Stevens’ very dramatic story, “The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin” When she told me hers, I had to add it to this collection because we all share the same elements in our families of origin: fear, shame, family secrets, discovery and learning to adjust to our own new reality. Yet every story is unique. I grew up in a picture postcard perfect family…or so I thought. My six … Read More

The German Jew Who Bombed Berlin

by Mark Stevens Like Ilonka Alexander’s story, Marc Stevens’ bears some similarities to mine in that none of us knew about our Jewish heritage until later in life, plus both of our fathers came from Hannover. But you will find in Marc’s account some extraordinary differences. This is his very unique and dramatic story: Escape, Evasion and Revenge Growing up, I had been told that, even though my father spoke with a very cultured British accent and had been a … Read More

The Pain of Family Secrets: Ilonka’s Story

by Ilonka Venier Alexander Forward by Pete Vanlaw Ilonka Alexander’s story is very special. She recently found me on one of the genealogical groups that ran my post, “The Day I Learned I was a Jew”.  Although not a blogger, her story is unique and had to be told. I also realized that it’s about “the need to belong “; another reason why I wanted to share it with you. Here is Ilonka’s story: Late in 2008 a good friend by … Read More

How Genealogy Solved the Mystery of My Grandpa Adolph

 Adolph a Bad Word As a kid growing up during WWII, the only Adolph I knew of was Adolph Hitler. So, you can imagine both my surprise and embarrassment when I learned that we had an Adolph in our own family. The middle initial, “A” in my father’s name – Curtis A. Vanlaw – stood for Adolph. The German custom – I later learned that it was really a Jewish custom – that the son takes on his father’s first … Read More