Monday, August 5, 2013

What Does Your Last Name Mean To You?

Having spent countless hours working on my family genealogy I am always reevaluating what my name really means to me. What does it mean to my family? What weight does it carry and how do the actions and experiences of our ancestors influence who we are today?

It was with these thoughts and questions running through my mind that I watched the documentary “Hitler’s Children”. If you never thought about how the actions of your ancestors influence who you are this is the movie you need to watch. It demonstrates how powerful our name is in shaping who we are and how our genealogy can shape our lives.

The documentary explores the lives of the descendants of prominent Nazi’s and how they cope with the burden of the past. For those who live with the last names of Himmler, Frank, Goering, Hoess their name ties them with genocide. They have a direct connection to the death camps; their family legacy is that of extermination. While some families may have skeletons, these people have monsters in their closet.

It is an interesting contradiction to the emotional ties that many people have and the associations that their last names carry. One’s surname can invoke prominent thoughts of their ancestry and a strong bond with their heritage: Irish, English, Italian, Spanish, Native American, Eastern European, Asian and even many positive German connections. Imagine the absence of pride; think of the horror of being so closely tied to the abominations of the Nazi regime.

All of the descendants in this film wrestle with knowing. There is no mystery. They know their name and the power it carries. They know the terror that their names still invokes in the people and decedents of the Holocaust. I can’t fathom the immense burden they these people live with every day of their lives... I can’t grasp the fear of having some part of those monsters inside me. The strength that these people have is immeasurable. These people are the generation that offers hope and they need to be remembered as much as their heinous ancestors.  

I take pride in the names and generations of my family. I accept the good and the bad. Regardless, I look forward to knowing more about the people in my tree, the lives they lived, and the places from which we came. I don’t know if I would be able to handle knowing of such monsters in my families past and knowing the same tainted blood was running through my veins. I am German; I am Irish; I am Native American; I am English; I am many things, all of which I am proud.

Watch and think about your own family. Appreciate what you have and look to find out more. Whether you realize it or not, your name is a big part of what makes you who you are and the more you know about it the more you will find out about yourself.