Hid­den Inher­i­tance: Fam­i­ly Secrets, Mem­o­ries, and Faith

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

Hei­di B. Neu­mark is a Luther­an pas­tor, com­mu­ni­ty activist, and author who has served con­gre­ga­tions in the Bronx and in Man­hat­tan. She is also, as she dis­cov­ered by chance, the grand­child of Jew­ish grand­par­ents and the child of a father who nev­er spoke to her or any­one else about their family’s Jew­ish roots.

Pas­tor Neu­mark, with her spir­i­tu­al and intel­lec­tu­al propen­si­ties, might be Rab­bi Neu­mark today if not for her grand­par­ents’ deci­sion, a deci­sion no doubt made to insure their own and their children’s sur­vival along with count­less oth­er Jews who felt forced to deny their Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, con­vert­ed to one or anoth­er Chris­t­ian faith, and cut off lines of Jew­ish descen­dants for all time. Yet in spite of this attempt, many Neu­marks were Holo­caust vic­tims. When Neumark’s twen­ty-two-year-old daugh­ter called with news that her search for Neu­mark fam­i­ly his­to­ry turned up infor­ma­tion on the influ­en­tial Jew­ish Neu­marks of Lübeck, Ger­many, Hei­di Neumark’s world changed.

Now her father’s answers — or non-answers — to ques­tions about fam­i­ly his­to­ry began to make sense. He had car­ried his Ger­man-Luther­an iden­ti­ty to his life in the Unit­ed States. He and his wife raised their daugh­ter ful­ly with­in this iden­ti­ty; the past was locked off. But no longer: pre­sent­ed with every­thing she did know about her fam­i­ly her­itage, Neu­mark recov­ered the Jew­ish fam­i­ly his­to­ry denied her for so long. The search pro­voked the­o­log­i­cal issues for this Luther­an pas­tor as well, well-aware of Mar­tin Luther’s anti-Semi­tism, which the church had long disavowed.

Neu­mark dis­cov­ered an expert on the Jew­ish Neu­mark fam­i­ly, Edzard Eichen­baum, an eighty-year-old liv­ing in Wittmund, Ger­many. Her vis­it to meet this man opened an eerie win­dow into cen­turies of Euro­pean cru­el­ty to its Jew­ish res­i­dents. When Eichen­baum brought his vis­i­tor to see the child­hood home of her grand­fa­ther, the emo­tion­al flood­gates opened. Vis­its to Lübeck (includ­ing the iron­works found­ed by Moritz), Berlin, and There­sien­stadt — where Neu­marks were incar­cer­at­ed — opened Neumark’s eyes to the true dimen­sions of the hor­rors of the Holo­caust and the almost van­ished thread of her iden­ti­ty, fur­ther illu­mi­nat­ed by lat­er encoun­ters with far-flung rel­a­tives from Cal­i­for­nia to Australia.

Hid­den Inher­i­tances remark­able jour­ney is pow­ered by intel­li­gent long­ing and a deep, engag­ing sen­si­tiv­i­ty to per­son­al des­tiny and Jew­ish peoplehood.

Acknowl­edg­ments, after­word, end­notes, preface.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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