Monday, September 7, 2020

"My Father Began to Conceal His Jewish Origins" Bieganski Interview #3

Informant was a forty-year-old Jewish female from the American south. Her father was American-born, with Eastern European Jewish immigrant grandparents.


We children were never told my father was Jewish.

I had inklings from an early age that he was. I had a crush on a Jewish boy in my school in first grade and told him my father was Jewish. When I told my mother this, she seemingly angrily told me my father was *not* Jewish.

I always wondered why my father's relatives, who we saw regularly, seemed Jewish albeit secularly so! So I wasn't surprised when a cousin revealed the 'truth' when I was in college, but for some reason my siblings were shocked that we'd been lied to. A few years before he died, one of my sisters asked him why he'd never told us. We'd never confronted him or my mother about it before, and he was surprised it mattered to us and said so. He gave the reason as being that he didn't think of himself as a Jew.

But when he was dying a few years later, he talked to that same sister and I about how he had suffered discrimination when he first went out into the world to find work -- this was during the Depression in New York. There were "No Jews" signs in businesses and also prospective employers could and did ask religion and Gentiles refused to hire Jews. He finally felt he'd never work unless he lied and -- interestingly -- he asked the family rabbi if it was OK to lie, despite having renounced his religion. The rabbi quoted something from the Torah about it being OK if one's survival was at stake, and so my father began to conceal his Jewish origins. He seemed to feel very guilty about this when he told us this story. All of this complicates anything I might tell you, but I will do my best to answer your questions nonetheless!


1 comment:

  1. Sophie' Choice - an alleged ghetto in Krakow. Poles did not invent ghettos. Ghetto was a Jewish place in Venice.


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