Monday, May 29, 2017

Letter to my sister regarding our mysterious Jewish maiden name

I wrote this very long letter to my sister today, and I was so fascinated by the subject of it, that I decided to post a record of it here.

Dear Martha,

So...it will be interesting to see what Rachel's DNA results are. I'm thinking since she is the only one between the four of us who can get a tan, her percentage of "Italy" will probably be higher. I just found out from my children that they had discussed the possibility of buying me a DNA test from ancestry.com for Christmas. Turns out that Audra had already purchased a gift for me and the price was too steep for Allen and Alicia to foot just between the two of them, so the idea was dumped. (Blah hah!☹️) Now I'd really like one.

This is lengthy...but I think it will interest you.

The very low percentage (1%) of European Jew surprises me. However, maybe it shouldn't. Grandpa insisted that he was German and that they came from Germany. His first language was German, the food his mom cooked was all German, their customs were all German..even being part of the Lutheran church. He had a German Bible from childhood...which he complained to me once that he had lost. I had gone over there to bring him some soup once when he wasn't feeling well during those last months that he was living alone and he told me that he couldn't find his German Bible anywhere. He was troubled by that. He was sure that he had never gotten rid of it. I look back and wonder now if he somehow instinctively knew he was at the end of his life (after all...he was stubbornly still around at 94 years young). Maybe he was reflecting on his life and wanted to think about spiritual things...making him really want the Bible he had used as a kid. Also, in a conversation with Gudrun once, I told her about my Great Grandfather coming from Germany. She was very interested and told me that "Emil" was a very German name. It doesn't sound like Grandpa's family was very Jewish to me....but the very Jewish name of Plotzker is a puzzle! The other curious thing I remember Grandpa mentioning to me was that his father was fluent in several languages. I was either in my teens or early 20s when he told me that. I remember being surprised and saying something like, "He was?!" but curiously, I never thought to ask him what other languages those were...or to tell you or Rachel that interesting little tidbit of information until many years later. Was Emil fluent in Hebrew? Russian? Yiddish? Polish? English?...Was German actually a secondary language for him?

Thanks to Audra, I have some more theories about his parents and background. Only guesses, but read on.

The record that ancestory.com has of the ship that G'grandpa and G'grandma came over on says that they came from a city in Poland (which one was it, again?) and their nationality was Russian. I was talking about this very recently with Audra, (my little IWU history major). I was telling her how it didn't make much sense to me because it seemed to us that they were Jewish or maybe Polish or maybe even German. She told me that it made perfect sense because of the "Pale of Settlement" imposed on the Jews during the period of time that they would have immigrated. I didn't know what she was talking about. She started to explain to me that the Russian gov't imposed Pograms on all the Jews living in their territory (which I actually knew about). What I didn't know was that something called the "Pale of Settlement" was created by Russia and part of that expanded into what had previously been known as (and what is today once again known as) Poland. Russia and many of its people didn't particularly like Jews, and since they had taken over Poland, they had even more of them to "deal with." They imposed laws on them. One of the ways to solve the "problem of the Jews" was to force them all to live in a specific region called "The Pale of Settlement." Russia wouldn't allow Jews to live anywhere else and they also imposed all sorts of other rules on them like what sorts of professions they were and weren't allowed to have, having extra taxes, that they couldn't live within any major cities in the region, and other terrible things.

Much of this settlement was in Poland and present day Turkey. At some point it even included part of what had been the Kingdom of Prussia (which we now see as Eastern Germany). Over the years, between its creation by Catherine the Great (who particularly disliked Jews, I guess) in 1791 and it's eventual disbandment in 1917, the eastern border fluctuated quite a bit. Anyone living within the Pale in what we now recognize as Poland, technically belonged to Russia during this time. Therefore, they would be considered "Russian" even if they lived in Poland. (Thus the stamp of nationality when they came over). 

During the turn of the century, many Jewish people immigrated to America and other parts of Europe to get away from the persecution. Anti-semitism was on the rise throughout all of Europe during this time (Satan was alive and well...and prowling around like a roaring lion...wanting to devour the Jews). With the surname of Plotzker, people would have recognized Emil and Berta as Jewish...even if they no longer considered themselves to be Jewish. By then, the Plotzker family may have left the Jewish faith altogether, generations earlier, and even intermarried with Gentiles (watering down that European Jewish blood). Perhaps Emil found sympathy in a very pretty miss Berta Arndt because she was of a similar background. (Didn't you say that her last name was also of Jewish origin? Some of my searching says that too, but other sources say it is Anglo-Saxon...more puzzling, but not if she was in fact, a German girl) Could he have gone to Germany at some point and met her...and maybe even brought her "home" to the Pale (Poland)? (Didn't someone say something once about her hiding in a barn somewhere from "communists?") 

According to Grandpa, his mother only knew German when she came over and she had to learn English after she came here. I don't think she ever spoke it very well. According to Dad, her English was very broken, with a strong accent (which was very entertaining to her grandchildren at times...poor g'grandma)...and he remembered her reverting to German on occasion. G'grandpa was apparently very well educated, but I don't think G'grandma was. I remember hearing about her superstitions, which Dunja told me was very common of the older generation during her childhood in Germany. Maybe the German background they supposedly had was really only hers. ? Or here's another thought, maybe even she didn't know she had marrried a man of Jewish ancestry.

The original Plotzkers came from a town called Plotzk (also known as Plotke, Plock, or even Płock), a well known Jewish settlement in Poland-inside the Pale. Everyone in Poland and Russia...and probably even eastern Germany would have known this. Which would also explain why my Spanish professor at MCC, a woman in her 50s or 60s, who was originally from Poland, disliked me very much! At Christmas time that year, she told the class to ask me about Hannukah because I would know all about it. When I acted very puzzled and told her I wasn't Jewish...she said "You are too Jewish," and then seemed very annoyed when I kept insisting that I was not Jewish and knew nothing at all about Hannukah. As I left the classroom that day she said to me, "You are Jewish." I just thought she was an absolute nut at the time and I came home with yet another weird story to tell at the dinner table about this awful professor I had. I couldn't figure out why she hated me from the first day of class. On the first day of Spanish class at MCC, my professor was calling names for the role call and hesitated when she called my name. She stopped and looked full into my face before going on with the rest of the names. I remember thinking it was a bit odd and almost expected her to ask me about possibly being related to another Plotzker she knew or something, but she didn't. After that, she made it obvious to everyone that she didn't like me. At first I thought it was my imagination, but as I ignored it, it intensified and other students came up to me to ask me why the teacher hated me much...to which I replied, "I have no idea." All the students thought she was a bit mentally off (and I'm fairly certain they were right) and they dismissed it at that. I remember trying to ignore it...but it persisted. I complained to Eric Shadd, who tried to convince me to report her to the dean of students. I didn't do that...and when I received a very low grade from her I really wished that I had. Years later, when you made the discovery of our surname being Jewish, I was very surprised. A few years later, after I had read more on the history of the holocaust, particularly about the intense hatred in Poland towards the Jews, the memory of this professor came back. It all made sense. She would have been very familiar with the name "Plotzker" and would have been a young woman during WW2, either in her teens or very early 20s, soaking up all the hate propaganda...which very likely could have persisted years later in her prejudice against Jews in general.

Pretty much all of the Jewish citizens of Plotzk were massacred during Hitler's reign of terror. Terribly sad and tragic. Evil. I already told you that I once found a record of someone named Plotzker on a list of arrivals by train to Dachau. 😞

I'm sure that Emil and Berta experienced anti-semitism no matter where they lived and wanted very much to get away from it. They came over to the USA in 1903...perhaps with a strong resolve to never mention their Jewish heritage to anyone, even their children. They were done with all of that. They could put it behind them, right? (If only they had known about the Internet back then. You can run...but never hide). They joined up with other Christian family members in Rochester (more Plotzkers who were decidedly not Jewish) who could help them settle here and start a new life. I would say they got out of Germany at a very good time. Yes...now that I've reflected upon this, I DO believe that they were in Germany at some point, but somehow found their residency to be Poland just previous to coming here. I don't know how...I can only surmise.

Audra had only begun to explain the Pale of Settlement to me when we arrived home in the car. Our conversation ended at that point, but it piqued my curiosity enough so that I started researching it during the last week. I was pretty excited to share my newfound wisdom with you and had just told Audra the other night that you had sent in the DNA test. I thought it would be interesting to see the results, fully expecting to find the percentage of European Jew to be much higher. I had planned to tell you all about my original theory...which I had to tweak a bit in the last 24 hours or so. I still think it might shed some real light on our mysterious Jewish surname.

Only now I find it quite ironic that Mom and Dad decided to bestow honor on a woman who was so nasty to our ancestors and their friends/family by naming the family dog after her! LOL! 😂!

Love, 
Priscilla. 


Author's note: when we were kids, we had a high pedigreed dachshund called Kate. Named for Catherine the Great.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Third Time.....

My youngest has made a decision to attend Grove City College in the fall. I am very pleased and a bit excited about her choice. I had wanted to attend this same school when I was looking to transfer to a four year school when I was finishing up my first year at Monroe Community College. I was so disappointed to get waitlisted by GCC. I tossed the idea of looking at Grove City College out to my first two children as a possibility, up never pressed the issue. Allen never even applied. Audra did, got accepted, but decided against it.

Well...the third time is the charm.