Monthly Archives: June 2022

Family Secrets

What if you learned that your family’s most cherished stories are a pack of revisionist lies used to cover up shocking crimes?  At the age of 38, Jennifer Teege was doing some research at the library when she found a book that was a biography of her biological mother.  From the book, Jennifer learned that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, SS commandant of the Plaszow labor camp.

Her beloved grandmother, Ruth Irene lived with Goeth at Plaszow.  (In Schindler’s List, Ruth Irene buries her head under the pillows while he stands on the balcony shooting Jews.)  Ruth Irene kept Goeth’s photo by her bed for the rest of her life.  She told Jennifer that Goeth was a kind and gentle man who never killed anyone. 

When Jennifer revealed her secret past to her adopted family, it almost destroyed them.  Her adopted father became obsessed with studying the Holocaust.  Before dying, he revealed that his obsession arose from fear of not knowing what his father did during the war.  What if his father committed crimes while serving in the German Army? The German Army was used to commit war crimes on the Eastern Front in Russia.

He never learned the truth about what his father did during the war.  German soldiers were discouraged from keeping diaries or journals and their letters were censored.  The Nazis wanted to control all the information so that their propaganda was the only narrative available. (Today Putin’s Russia and Chairman Xi’s China use internet firewalls to control the narrative and cover up probable crimes against humanity in Ukraine and Xinjiang.)   

Jennifer and her adopted father struggled with the ethical dilemma of what responsibility, if any, they should bear for the actions of their family members.  Americans may discover a similar dilemma when they log on to and similar sites looking to build their family trees.  The U.S. has plenty of its own horrors. 

What if you learned that during Jim Crow days your kindly grandfather and his buddies used to drive along country roads at night looking for black people to terrorize?  Hurling watermelons out car windows was a popular “sport”.   What if your grandparents show up in an old photograph screaming and hitting black college students who were attempting to desegregate the lunch counter?

Or maybe one of your ancestors served with Arthur MacArthur (Douglas’ dad) during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) when the U.S. used dum dum bullets to suppress a Filipino independence movement.  Dum dums were banned as too inhumane by a treaty signed in the Hague, but the Americans negotiated an exemption covering their use in the Philippines.

What if you found a book that proves your great-great-granddad was one of Chivington’s 100-day militia? In 1864, Chivington’s militia attacked Black Kettle’s encampment at Sand Creek, Colorado without provocation and massacred the inhabitants who were mostly the old and sick, or women and children. They didn’t have a camera crew with them, but they bragged to the local papers about their manly deeds against noncombatants. Both the federal and Colorado governments insisted they lacked jurisdiction to prosecute their crimes.

What if you discover that your God-fearing grandfather is one of the men implicated in the Southern Baptist’s sex scandal?  The denomination recently released a report revealing decades of sex crimes (rape and molestation) committed by church leaders and covered up by the church hierarchy.   The denomination still seems to be more interested in protecting the perpetrators than in apologizing to and comforting the victims.  

Like Jennifer and her adopted father, we may struggle to assimilate the awful truth about our families.  The closer we are in time to the perpetrators, the more difficult the emotional distress.  Jennifer Teege descended into a deep depression that required intensive psychotherapy before she could reconcile herself with her new knowledge.  However, she eventually found peace in knowing the truth.  Knowing the truth is always better than living a lie.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small employers to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy. 

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A Continuum of Time

Photo by Robert Trull on

Despite the horror unfolding around us both in this country and other parts of the world, life has an uncanny way of just plodding along. It’s almost like a two-tiered continuum, one filled with pain, terror, loss, and sadness, and one that holds the everyday, regular stuff of life. At least that’s how it feels to me right now. My work as a news reporter and editor currently keeps me focused on war, antisemitism, underserved populations, and social justice challenges. But, I also cover lifecycle events, community happenings, profiles of people doing amazing things, and other upbeat topics. I’ve also recently been faced with some practical challenges that sometimes leave me questioning whether to stay in my job or leave to find greener pastures. And alternatively, I learned I won a prestigious journalism award. So, you see, two tiers of life happening at the same time.

What to make of all of this? My mom used to say that all of life is yin and yang. The good is necessitated by the bad, the joy is sweeter because of the pain. Honestly, I thought it was ridiculous at the time. I couldn’t comprehend what she meant. I railed against loss, frustration, and disappointment. I raged at injustice as a completely unnecessary evil. And I shut out the thought of ever losing someone I love, ever.

The thing is, no matter how hard we try to hang onto our youthful idealism, life keeps on happening. It changes us. And I don’t mean to suggest change is bad. On the contrary, I believe change is both good and necessary. That was also a lesson I learned from my mom. In order to stay afloat in the stormy seas of life, it’s important to be both anchored, and buffeted by the wind. So, I remain optimistic and hopeful in the face of tragedy, but I also hold onto the lessons and memories of those who anchored me and even in their absence, continue to be my anchors.

I recently learned about a nonprofit organization that is working to rescue people in the Eastern part of Ukraine and get them to the safer Western part of the country. The rescue efforts began with children who are orphaned or in foster care, and now has expanded. I heard stories of bravery and fear, pain and joy, loss, and excitement for the future. Again, two things happening at the same time. In another part of the country, the Mayor of L’viv is planning a fundraiser to create a hospital to care for, and help rehabilitate, civilians who have lost limbs in the war, and to provide prosthetics to those who need them. A fundraiser while war rages all around. I’ve heard that in some parts of the country, it’s even hard to tell war is happening, while in others, cities have been reduced to rubble.

As for the mass shootings that have happened since I last wrote for this blog, I actually have nothing that makes sense of that. During the last month, a childhood friend lost a child to an accidental drug overdose, and I lost a cousin to pancreatic cancer. All these losses feel unreal, random, senseless. And they are.

So, what’s the flip side of these tragedies? I don’t think there is one. They are just horrible things that happened. Much like my younger self, I am filled with sadness, rage, and disappointment. Right now, it’s hard to see the other side, but my mom’s voice keeps me anchored while the storm blows around me. That voice inside that tells me to keep going, keep loving, keep giving to the world, keep hoping. I’m still here, still learning, still growing, still changing. Maybe someday it will make some sense.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58

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