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 Inheritance’s 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.