Growing up, I was “blessed” with an entirely invented surname, although it’s a bastardization of a common Eastern European name. We’d assumed that immigration officials had changed it when my paternal grandfather came to Australia–they did that sort of thing, In Those Days–until very recently, when Dad discovered his father had been using it while still in Europe. It’s almost certainly a made-up alias.
The reality is we have no idea who Dad’s Dad was; a lot of people had a lot of reason to change their name and run away from things back in the era of the Second World War, and the dude left my grandma and possibly died long before Dad was adult enough to even think to ask. Dad’s done some work to track his father down since, but the trail is pretty cold.
Me? I’m… less invested. Dad’s Dad might be my biological grandfather, but my grandfather grandfather was a Polish and/or Ukrainian dude called Peter who lived with Granny for like fifty years. I always knew we weren’t biologically related, but it didn’t matter. Pretty much all of Dad’s side of the family, and the history thereof, was lost during the war and its aftermath. They all have terrible stories–Granny grew up in a Siberian orphanage and subsequently survived Lienz, Peter escaped from a Nazi work camp–they never wanted to talk about when they got to Australia. I won’t deny the lost history there is interesting; I’ve described the story of Dad’s Dad to Jewish people, who’ve pointed out the obvious inference, while Granny comes from one of the groups of Cossacks who were Nazi collaborators (we have some, uh, unfortunate family photos),1 and Peter and a friend were chased through the snow by Nazis with dogs and guns in their escape attempt (his friend did not make it).
Europe in that era was a mess.
Meanwhile, on the flip side, my Anglo-Australian mother can trace her family right back to First Fleet convicts, so… go figure, I guess.
- As it turns out, that entire ethnic group seems to’ve been co-opted by the far-right as poster children for “white genocide” which… as a literal descendant of people who were both survivors of Soviet ethnic cleansing and Nazi collaborators, you’ll have to excuse me while I go throw up in my mouth a bit. Basically, Nazis and holocaust deniers can fuck right off and stop pissing all over my family history. Thanks. [↩]