One of the perils of genealogy is uncovering family stories that don’t stand up to the facts one uncovers during research. This happened to me last week when I discovered my great great grandfather’s family, the Holtermanns, who emigrated to the United States during the 1840s, were buried in a small Catholic cemetery in the city of St. Louis.
For years I had labored under the belief that my grandmother was Jewish and had forsaken her beliefs in order to marry my Irish-Catholic grandfather. She died in 1938, so I never met her. As the years passed and especially after my father died in the 1970s, there began to be rumors about our Jewish background – no doubt stoked by the “Jewish-sounding” name of Holtermann. Being a fervent Zionist, I latched upon these rumors and believed that my love for Israel and the Judaism was more than just my sympathy for a people who in my view picked the wrong G-d to worship and spent the next 5000 years paying for the mistake. I believed there was more to the revulsion I felt when I studied the Holocaust. Perhaps that “more” was in the blood, that the connection between the Israelites in Babylon passed through exile in the Pale before finding its way to me in America.
Dead men may not tell tales, but their silence does speak volumes. It turns out that the Holtermanns hail from Germany near the Dutch border. It’s a solidly Roman Catholic region of a predominantly Lutheran state.
So the truth is out: I’m not a member of the “tribe” as I once believed. But I still feel the same.
If there is any nation upon this earth that is as almost as dear to me as America, it’s Israel.