[[This post is being edited as I find out more… This is not easy!]]
As a Catholic priest, I rejoice to have discovered that I am a Jew, born of a Jewess who was born of a Jewess (with her Jewish husband) who was born of a Jewess (with her Jewish husband). The line goes through the mother.
While I have no proof of religion for any of them, my mom spoke a bit of Yiddish, and she said that her mother and grandmother spoke it fluently. The only ones to speak Yiddish in Poland were the Jews, and they were from “Poland”, more or less, though I’m not sure where exactly, though when I threw out names of cities to her when I was a bit older, I think I remember her saying she thought the greater region of Warsaw was a possibility, but that she didn’t know. I don’t know if her reference to Poland was made with modern borders in mind, or any combination of evolving borders in the minds of her mother and grandmother. You have to remember that, back in the day, after 1848, the borders of “Poland” were what? I don’t know: Brandenburg Prussia, Russia, the Austrian Empire… At any rate, all the names involved, both fathers and mothers, are Jewish, or, it would seem so, as these names are common to the lists of Yad vaShem.
This is not about “myths and endless genealogies, which promote dissensions” (1 Timothy 1:4). I agree with Saint Paul, who says: “Avoid foolish arguments, genealogies, rivalries, and quarrels about the law, for they are useless and futile” (Titus 3:9). On that level, this is, for me, about dialogue about what Pope Benedict XVI somewhat mysteriously called “Israel.”
On another level, as I started to look up the last names on my family tree in the Yad vaShem database – with so many hundreds of hits – I had to think that I must have so very many relatives whose lives were snuffed out during the holocaust, the Shoah. The first names coming up were Estera, Shalom, Hannah, Israel, József, Sarah, Hilel, Isac, Moisey, Aron, Rakhel, Solomon, Khaim, Abram, Yitzkhak…
Great waves of solidarity brought me right before them, and, one with them, I became aware of their enemy, our enemy, my personal enemy, an evil entity which I have met during exorcisms, but not like this, an abyss of such immense evil, not personified, but rather a person, very determined. This was not an historic evil, not “in the past”, and certainly not subject to any weak cry of “Never again!” “Plus jamais!” “Nie wieder!” This evil is very much alive and became present to me ever so personally, putting me on edge.
Sag niemals nie! Never say never! It can happen again. The cry “Never again!” risks being a source of self-congratulations for having said it. It risks being a proclamation that humanity has successfully moved on, that we are better today than those in the past just because we live today. And because of that, it risks being a licence to kill. And if “Never again!” is a mind game we play with ourselves, it is a game that Satan always wins. The evil that some human beings manifest is their willing availability to the puppeteering of Satan, who laughs at protests of “Never again!” We have to know against whom we are fighting, and it is not so much flesh and blood as it is against the diabolical Father of Lies. Changing laws for the better is good and necessary, but changing hearts and souls in spiritual awareness is urgently imperative.
Anyway, there are some difficulties with my genealogy. The first is that my mom knew her mother’s first name, Julia, but perhaps not much more. She had a small painted portrait of her called “Julia”, which she treasured, perhaps because that was all she knew of her mother. My mom seems to have disappeared immediately after her birth, almost as if she were being hidden, far from her mother (in Michigan), growing up with I don’t know who (in Connecticut, although an “Aunt Stella” comes to mind). I’m guessing that Stella belongs to my mom’s father’s side of the family.
My mom’s mom has an interesting history, and I’m guessing this has to do with both World War I and the successive and ultra-deadly pandemics of those years, in which about 1/3 of the entire world’s population perished. Her last name at birth changed with marriage in her teen years. That husband disappeared altogether. Then her last name changed again in her teen years, and it was then that my mom was born. My mom, it seems, went with Aunt Stella on that father’s side. Then, my mom’s mom remarried again, three times in just a few years. They had a bunch of kids, and then he died. And then she remarried again. Someone from Connecticut, where my mom is said to have grown up, and from where Stella is from, just started following the blog pretty intensely. A relative, perchance?
Anyway, it’s all a bit difficult as my mom (and presumably also the Aunt Stella side) had a particularly terrible resentment to the U.S. Census, a tangible fear which truly scared me (and the census taker) at the time (1970s). Fear was out of character for her. Her incident with the census taker, her extended rebellious “lack of cooperation” to put it pleasantly, was clearly a manifestation of PTSD. I’m guessing there’s a story there that could reach into her rather mysterious “disappearance” after birth. Anyway, these relatives may or may not be helpful, as it seems everything was all hush-hush. If this was because of a generalized fear of what was happening with the Nazis, can you blame them? I can’t.
The second difficulty regards place and time. Going back to the mid 1800s, things get a bit sketchy in that part of Europe. I’m not really interested in going back further than that. What I would like to do is see if I can work forward a bit from the 1850s and 1860s and into the 1940s, but this time in Europe, and see if any relatives did die in the holocaust, the Shoah. The Yad vaShem site is a mine of information, but I’m not adept at working with it. Perhaps someone knows of a way. Any advice is welcome. Leave a comment in the moderated comments box to this article, or contact me at an old but still active email address, which is holy souls hermitage [one word] at gmail dot com. Thank you. And share this, if you would, please, as maybe, just maybe, it will come before someone who might be able to offer that one bit of advice which will make it all come home to heart and soul.
— Father George David Byers