In the story of families, people often encounter “family secrets”, or issues that are not talked about that happened in the past. These may be related to traumatic events or to the fate of a certain family member. They are not talked about because of shame or guilt or other reasons. These secrets may be known to some family members, but very often these family members are no longer there for the telling.
When I decided to research and document my family’s history, for reasons to be elaborated below, it was already a time when most of those who could shed light on certain issues were dead and I needed to rely primarily on documentation. As I moved forward in the process of uncovering the story of my family, the “issues not talked about”, in both my mother’s and my father’s families, were at the background and I had to encounter them. This is when I realized that these issues were not talked about not only because of the reluctance of my parents and other family members to do so, but also because of my own reservations at a younger age to ask questions about my parents’ families’ past. The fact that I was born and raised in Israel and belong to a generation that saw life in the Diaspora as inferior to life in Israel, did not help me to become too interested in their lives “there”.
As I moved on with my work, I realized that the story of my family goes beyond satisfying my personal curiosity and it is equally important for my children and grand-children as well as my extended family members, to know where their ancestors came from, what their background was and, given the period they lived in, what their tragic fate was.
People live their private lives, raising their families, developing a career, possibly a hobby. Yet they live within a specific political and socio-economic context, which structures and tremendously impacts their lives. Wars, economic crises, political upheavals dominate personal decisions people make regarding their own and their families’ lives. Thus, a family story has to try and look into the contexts in which the persons we are focusing on lived in and find intersections between processes and events we read about in history books and private lives of individuals – the places where the public and the private spheres intersect. Obviously, there is no scarcity of those in the 20th century, when most of my immediate family’s history takes place.
My ancestry is naturally divided into two. The sequence of my work on my family history started with my mother’s side – the Gottfeld and Lewin ancestry, for reasons to be elaborated in the next chapter. Only later, once I had some idea on how to go about this kind of family research, did I start to work on my father’s side – the Gradwohl ancestry . Despite the fact that both families stem from Germany, their stories, as will be shown, are very different, however, as already hinted above, they both entail issues that were not talked about. This family research has brought those to the open as is shown in the document.
The work is based on official documents, pictures and family stories, found in private and public archives; it also includes recent pictures of places linked to my family’s life. This depiction of my family is biased, as on some issues and persons I found more information than on others; this obviously does not mean they are more important.
As I was making progress in my research, I decided to limit the period that I write about: My research starts as early as I was able to find information on, practically the 18th century and it ends at the end of World War II. The reasons for me ending there being that I realized that I am in a unique position to embark on the study of the past, as I speak German (to an extent…) and, being raised in a family that originated in Germany, am familiar with and can connect to the German culture and reality. Leaving such a task for the next generation will require a major effort on their part in understanding the overall context. In addition, being a researcher myself (although not a historian), I hoped I possess the skills for such a task. Thus, the more recent, post-WWII history can be left to the next generation (should they be interested at all).
An accompanied document is the family tree, with its detailed information about dates of births, marriages, deaths, etc. Both documents contain a lot of names and details and can potentially connect my family history to other individuals and families. Thus, it should be seen as an incomplete work, which hopefully could be enriched in the future.