Edited: Genealogy is breaking my brain, but enlivening my heart, my soul

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[[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


Filed under Jewish-Catholic dialogue

6 responses to “Edited: Genealogy is breaking my brain, but enlivening my heart, my soul

  1. sanfelipe007

    I can sense that the Spirit is at work repairing (what Father Gordon calls) the broken threads of the tapestry in which we are all woven. I would not make much of your disinterest in certain aspects of your search as I see a certain docility in your demeanor. Or perhaps it is a certain aloofness inherited?

    At any rate, I finally gave in to my Guardian Angel (why do I so obstinately resist?) and went to Confession. Of course, like many sinners, I can obsess over a few words I read somewhere about impenitence – and suddenly I am worried that my every inaction is a sign of it.

    Father, I know I’m preaching to the Preacher, but in this great year of Mercy, there is bound to be some mercy for you that you never knew was wanting in your life. For we do not, now, see clearly nor know clearly.

    I found your sixth paragraph most compelling! It seemed to have a particular ring of truth that explained what I must have been feeling, but was unable to articulate, when faced (in “debates”) with certain interlocutors with whom I cannot reason. They seem (and by extension, I) to be a thrall of that mind game of which you speak. I doubt this will enable me to break through their self-reference, but at least I will no longer feel at a loss for words.

    Prayers for you and Father Gordon.

  2. sanfelipe007

    “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. ”

    This reminds me of an anecdote about a past Presidential candidate that, while on the stump, was confronted by a young protester that took the campaigner to task with the words:
    “You just don’t understand how the world works now; you didn’t grow up with the internet and social media!”

    The response was quick:
    “You’re right, my generation didn’t grow up with any of those things: We invented them!

    How’s that for self-congratulations!

  3. Pingback: Genealogy is breaking my brain, but enlivening my heart, my soul | ARISE! LET US BE GOING! | Deaconjohn1987's Blog

  4. Father George David Byers

    @ sanfelipe007 – Not so much aloof as beyond my goals and any possible budget. My grandma’s life is complicated to say the very least. Yikes!

  5. pelerin

    I do wish you luck, Father George, with your researches. With the internet today it should be possible to make progress although I am surprised you have no interest in finding any living relatives. Surely they could be the key to finding if any of your relatives perished in the Shoah? And who knows – you may even find a Rabbi in your family!

  6. Father George David Byers

    @ pelerin – It’s insanely expensive to hire someone. Too time consuming for pro bono. I’m thinking that in this case it would be very many thousands of dollars. And don’t forget, it almost seems like my mom disappeared. I do remember we visited the house where she grew up. Quaint. I was just a little boy. But maybe you are right, and sanfelipe007. But my grandma’s history is oh so very complex. But, it could be that it these others who came to the rescue… A name comes back to me just now, typing this. It surprising what triggers things… Thanks. [Update: dead end… This is not easy…]

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