I hope my students are inspired to dig into their own ancestry once they’ve heard about some of mine.
For our 52nd birthday, my twin sister gave me a very boring-looking book called The Secret of the Sierra Madre – the Man Who Was B. Traven, by Will Wyatt. B. Traven wrote the book and screenplay The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. According to the meticulous research of author Will Wyatt, he was also the illegitimate son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, King of Prussia! After his father lost his kingdom during WWI, Herman Albert Otto Maximilian Feige began campaigning against the new German government. This put his freedom and life in danger, so he fled the country, changed his name to B. Traven and resided in Mexico until his death in 1969.
What does this have to do with me? My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Mabel Amanda Feige. It appears that I may be related to the last King of Prussia.
I tell them not to be surprised when a book, written by a stranger, tells them more about themselves than they ever wanted to know.
In 2011, I downloaded an e-book to my Kindle by Thaisa Frank. The title was Heidegger’s Glasses. The author invents a character named Dr. Engelhart to portray Martin Heidegger’s optometrist, who becomes a victim of the Nazi gas chambers.
Engelhart is my maiden name. Knowing that authors rarely pick names out of thin air, I decided to search the name in the records of Yad Vashem, the famous Holocaust Museum in Israel. I found the beginning of the Es, and started scrolling. After the fifth page of Engelharts, I felt a tear running down my cheek.
While my father has no knowledge that we may have Jewish ancestors, it was not uncommon for Jews to convert or pretend to be Christians to avoid persecution. Since WWII, the Engelhart name has become quite uncommon.
I suspect it is because so many of them were incinerated.
Then I tell my students that the name Engelhart means Strong Angel.