How My Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland Trip Changed Me

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My Trip to Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland Changed Me

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My uncle challenged me to research our family history. Loving my uncle as I do, I took the challenge. What I found by taking the challenge was not what I expected or had been told. The challenge in a letter was compelling me to travel. The letter said, my great-great-grandfather was a Protestant Jew. He married a German Catholic woman. The letter, written by a female member on my grandfather Patrick’s side of the family was about my grandfather’s father-in-law. I decided to travel to their homeland to learn about my family’s roots. My Germany, Austria, Hungry, and Poland, changed me. Going there profoundly affected me. This is how travel changed me.

My Germany, Austria, Hungary, & Poland Trip:
How Travel Changed Me

The background on this challenge from my Uncle happened when I was an adult with adolescent children. One day, on a visit with my mother and father, I found a Menorah in their garage in Cape Cod. When I asked mom how we got it, she said some old Jewish woman used it to pay my grandmother for sewing clothing. I said that doesn’t make sense. It’s a real Menorah, and a lost wax bronze casting at that. She got furious and told me I accused her of being Jewish. I had no idea why she was so mad at me. She said, ‘Take it.’ I took the Menorah home to Seattle.

She didn’t talk to me for many years because of my question. Regularly, my dad snuck phone calls to me. This was the time when we all used landlines. One day, she caught us talking on the phone. She told my dad to stop talking to me. He replied, “I will talk to my daughter whenever I want.” This changed me forever. I never got it.

My Family History

The letter, written about two years after WWII. Now, my mother and father passed away, so we can’t ask them for more details. In 2017, to my Uncle and me, it was a challenge to uncover what it all meant. Strong feelings and the memories motivated me to go to Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland trip to learn about my ancestor. This trip is so far the most precious to me of any journey I have been on to date. The next posts in coming months will be about all the beautiful sights I saw on the trip and travel tips, in case, you want to go their.

Our Roots

I wanted to learn first hand, about the years leading up to 1850, in Germany and how my great-great-grandfather came to the states. Something in my psyche drove me to take this trip. I saw historical museums, participated in Jewish tours, Catholic and Protestant church tours, 1850 history sightseeing tours, and to WWII sites. I learned a lot about my past and myself.

Mormon Research

Before I went on the trip, I had to determine where I should visit. I went to a Morman ward, created a family tree, looked at tons of documents, and researched my history. Several Mormon elders helped with the research.  Thanks to them, because without their help, I don’t think I would have been successful.

I determined I had to visit Wolznac, Germany, my great-great grandmothers birthplace, and my great-great grandfather’s trip through  Germany, Vienna, Austria, Budapest, Hungry, Krakow and Warsaw Poland.

My paternal grandparent’s Protestant family came from England. It is my saintly, grandmother, Corinne my namesake, the angel of my mother’s family, provided more insights as I searched for my lineage in Europe. I learned what compelled my great-great-grandfather Henric to come to the United States.

Adopted Family

Another family member that influenced this trip was my children’s adopted grandmother. Her name was Suzanne Rosenkrantz. She had no children. We adopted her into our family, and we became very close to her after her husband passed away.

Suzanne Sands Rosenkrantz was a dominant driving force in our lives because of her positive influence of kindness, gentility, empathy, and consideration. She survived Auschwitz and walked the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death March to Loslau in January 1945. The destination, the march was 60 kilometers to death. Today, as I write this I am walking El Camino de Santiago for her. It’s a long walk. She survived and so can I.

uschwitz death camp, auschwitz concentration camp

Auschwitz Children

Rarely do we think of children in this type of conditions, a death camp. Just think some were allowed to live, some killed immediately. She arrived a child and was allowed to live in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some children were born here. They have birth certificates with this as their birthplace. Typically, the Jewish children were killed when they born, while non-Jews became slave labor.

Seven thousand child arrived, and seven hundred survived. Suzanne was one of those children, she survived.

Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland Trip

Learning from Germany, Austria, Hungary

I went on this ‘vacation’ to write this story about Germany, Austria, Hungry and Poland and to learn what it took to come to America. Afterall, the timing is perfect since immigration is always in the news. Here is what I learned. First, my family fled from hate to come to the USA.

My great-great grandfathers’ family may have converted to Christianity at the time of Martin Luther, we will never know, or I haven’t figured that out yet. He is from Darmstadt, Germany, one of the first towns Martin Luther converted Catholics to Protestant Lutherans.

Darmstadt is known as one of the first cities in Germany to force Jewish shops to close in early 1933, shortly after the Nazis took power in Germany.  The Jews and those of Jewish ancestory disappeared over night. They were delivered to concentration camps becoming slaves.

How Travel Changed Me – First Change

 I thought my great-great-grandfather came to the USA because of his entrepreneurial nature and to flee from joining the Russian army.

He was an entrepreneur. He started a bakery and a grocery store. My family successfully survived and thrived, because of their smarts. But, we came here for equality, opportunity, and religious freedom. We left Germany because of my Grandfather didnt want label ‘Protestant Jew’. He was just a man. A man who practiced Christianity and was of Jewish ancestry. I learned from this travel that where you are from doesn’t matter. It’s what you do that matters.

Next Thing

He went on to Austria and Hungary. Which are beautiful locations worthy of a vacation. People of Jewish ancestry in 1850 couldn’t own land, and integration into the society was separate never equal.

Second Learning on My Poland Trip

Unwelcomed, the Jews in Europe suffered. Poland invited Jews to live there. Life was terrible in 1850 if you had Jewish ancestry or were Jewish. Yet when they arrived in Poland had special privileges. 

My great-great grandfather went to Poland to find a new home as a guest. His Jewish heritage made Poland safer. But, he didn’t see a welcoming place in 1850. Penalties for any crime to a Jew were worse than a crime done to a non-Jew, sort of a Polish form of hate crime legislation.

Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland Trip

My adopted Suzanne also didn’t find Poland welcoming. Auschwitz is in Poland. The history is hard to consume day after day on a Polish trip. This isnt a typical vacation.

Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland Trip

Our tour guide, her face blurred to protect her privacy

Jewish Quarters

I found the Krakow Jewish quarters and the presentation of Krakow’s history constructively enlightening and inspiring. Warsaw, on the other hand, and the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto is anything but positive. The Polin Museum is brilliant, truthful, and realistically tells the whole ugly story about what happened to the Jews and people of Jewish descent in Poland. The Polin Museum is 2016 World Winner of Museums. It’s impactful. You have to see this museum if you are anywhere near Warsaw. If you do, you will see why my great-great-grandfather didn’t stay there. And unfortunately, it was one of the better countries for a person of Jewish ancestry to live compared to other regions of Europe.

Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Poland Trip

How Travel Changed Me – Second Change

Poland and specifically Auschwitz taught me my feelings run deep about social injustice.

The cruelty of humanity overwhelmed me while I was traveling on this trip. My feelings are still affected today.

Maybe humankind may mature over time. But, the way we treat immigrants isn’t right. My family once wereimmigrants. Aren’t we all immigrants?

However, to allow killing because you don’t like a group is inhuman.

While Suzanne lived in Poland she was a Jewish slave in concentration camps or death camps. Her only purpose was to work. These people worked until death. The camps had a saying over the entry gates, “Work will set you free” because their only freedom was death. IT sickened me to see this and to realize a family member experienced this kind of hate.

According to the letter, after visiting Germany, Austria, Hungry and Poland, I realized if he had stayed, I wouldn’t be here.

Third Learning

Since he had a rough start finding a homeland, in the USA, hopefully, elieved things the hate and a better life.

After arriving in upstate New York, he changed his German surname spelling – from Goth to Guth, the Yiddish or Jewish spelling of good. So what’s in a name? My dad’s family name Green means he was a Greenskeeper at some point in history.  Therefore, my name suggests, I am a ‘good greenskeeper.’ He believed in the USA. He felt he could be who he was, accepted his ancestry, and new identity.

Here is the final chapter of my families arrival to the USA. My entrepreneur, great-great-grandfather, started the bakery. He made the monetary thing he was searching for in upstate New York. He joined the second oldest Christian church in the U.S.A. The church parishioners were instrumental in the abolitionist movement, women’s rights, and protecting children from child labor. They believed their actions and life had to reflect their Christian values or they weren’t Christians. He lived in the USA. Henric lived his faith. He was a Christian abolitionist. He fed the hungry, the poor, widows and orphans.

How Travel Changed Me – Third Change

Great-great-grandfather and my vacation taught me to live what you believe.

I have never felt connected to my family. Called out as different, a rebel, a troublemaker. I am driven to live out my beliefs and to take action. What I mean by this is I am motivated to live my faith, my Christian beliefs. I work for the poor in food kitchens. I work in refugee camps. My volunteer work  for Christian, Catholic, Episcopal, and the Salvation Army is photography.  Their projects help others in need. Usually, my projects help immigrant refugees. I feel compelled to work for others, who have less than me. I want to make new beginnimgs to work to correct the injustices to refugees, women, and children. This is how travel changed me we are all in the same family.

Connected to Family

This is how my travel changed me.

Now because of this trip, finally, I relate to my family. I understand my past because of the trip I am going to tell you about in the next few posts, it’s a good story. I will tell you about what I saw. Now, I get it. I’m part of my great-great grandfather’s Henric’s DNA. As parents, we don’t reproduce. We produce children from many past generations. My behavior, motives aren’t like anyone else in my family because I am a product of many generations. I hope all of you have the chance to learn about your ancestry. And even better, I hope you get the chance to go to the country you are from and travel to your ancestors home.

I learned a lot, this is how travel changed me. The most import change from my Germany, Austria, Hungry, and Poland trip is I found a family connection. Now, because of my journey, because of my travel, and what I learned, I feel like I belong. Now, I’m connected. I discovered my family and me..

Now I walk the Camino del Santiago to learn, to heal with my purpose. Thank you for my Poland trip

Thank you my Lord for these gifts!

Germany, Austria, Hungry, and Poland Itinerary

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Kate started traveling for work. Now with grown children, who are travelers, she travels for pleasure looking for great travel experiences. Currently, her home is in Bellevue, WA, and lives with her cat Angelina Jolie. She has a Bachelor's of Fine Arts, Studio Arts and Art History from the University of Colorado, and from City University, Seattle, an MBA and Master of Arts, Management. Her favorite things are exploring cultures, traveling the world, creating a painting and sour foods.