Friday, December 08, 2006

Who Are You: how many have died because of your vote, or silence?

Who are you? Do you have an identity? Are you someone? How do you identify yourself? How do others know you? We’ve talked of DNA and how it could reveal hints of origin of a surname some 375 years ago; but what does it have to do with your identity?

For me, I think, sometime in my youth, I figured out who I was some of that which makes me – me. Doing the genealogical DNA is an extension of grandpa sitting when I was sixteen.

Grandpa Sam – I’ve mentioned him before, and doubtless will again – was an exceptional character. While mom and dad took grandma Daisy out, I would sit with grandpa Sam and listen to his stories – actually prod him for stories of his origins and travels.

Not wishing to miss a thing, and longing for elaboration on the “tall tales” he told me as a child, I would sit with a tape recorder. I would see decades pass – my oldest children grown – before I would return to those stories, those “tall tales”, only to discover, if anything, grandpa understated the facts.

Grandpa was interesting, it was almost a riddle and too fantastic for a young American to fathom. He told of parents of three nationalities – of twenty-three siblings, of three nationalities – of one father, three mothers and all born in the same community, and each of the children in the same house.

The oldest of my children, a boy and a girl, are named for grandpa Sam – not that it helps understand the riddle. For that, we need the name and location of the town. Having the internet as the source of history has proved superior to having history books.

The family name, is associated with Sokolów, Galicia – a region that was constantly being fought over, or traded off, between 19th century Poland, Austria and Russia monarchies.

Like my Sorb ancestor’s homeland, Sokolów is in a region which was a battleground. It is here that grandpa Sam’s line adopted the name Trauerspiel – Tragedy. Like Shekn, It is a name which tells the story of the region and a people.

Both our family names tell us of the horrors of war. One tells of the refugee, the scared guest, the other of those who remain, and suffered through the deepest tragedy of war. Both reflect the survivors – in a time when surnames became mandatory, the dead received neither name nor marker.

If there had been documents telling of the dead, subsequent wars and the intentional acts of the holocaust have seen them destroyed.

Grandpa Sam was my adopted mom’s dad, so there is no way to use DNA to see into his origins. It is a journey I’d love to take. I guess it is a journey I begin whenever I do the genealogy.

It is also a journey taken whenever there is news of senseless war of choice. How many families, holding their dead, would, if they could, take the name tragedy, or scared, or frightened? Of those, how many are of our making?

This week is Hanukkah; ten days later sees Christmas; and then the new year. A leader who claims to talk directly to a Jewish Price of Peace – one worshiped by millions – and thinks he earns his salvation by murdering those who call the Prince their Profit. Who are you?

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