My father was a true storyteller. A trait he had inherited from his maternal grandfather. As a child he told me imaginative stories before bedtime. Before he started, he asked me where we had left. That way he also managed to pick up the thread himself. Pure fiction for children. You were listening breathlessly and could see what was happening before you. Imagination in optima forma.

The art of storytelling is that the listener, or the reader, can experience it as real. Theater for the mind. The same applies when it comes to historical facts. Since the invention of photography and film, an extra dimension has been added. For example, a form of realism has entered into stories that we accept as reality and truth. Caution is required. This is typical Hollywood fluff.

A story is not just history, record, or chronicle, based on hard documented facts. It is also myth, parable, story, saga, fairy tale, and narrative. Driven by exaggeration and half or whole falsehoods. Self-deception, illusion and fantasy are old acquaintances here. You want to hear what suits you well. A family story that mainly shows the beautiful sides sells much better. Because who does not want to make a good impression?

The history of countries is told by rulers and victors. It is only on which side you stand if you recognize yourself in these official and legitimate stories. When I started searching for my family, I could not have imagined that I would experience a shock or surprise when discovering new facts. First of all, I realized that I was the fourth generation of Czech immigrants. Suddenly the natural assumption of native citizenship proved to be fiction. The genealogy turned out to be a minefield, full of pleasant and above, unpleasant amazement. Do you recognize yourself still? The familiar self-image turns out to be a chimera.

The stories about my ancestry were partly based on myth or exaggeration. That much became clear. True against the background of Western history, but also private, family stories, intimate, private and personal. One of my private upheavals arose when my second cousin, a descendant of the lineage of my grandfather’s sister, showed two photos of Czech cousins. Possibly descendants of a brother of my great-great-grandfather. Portrayed in uniforms from the German Wehrmacht around 1939.

My Czech roots, which are located in South-West Bohemia, now also pointed to a different historical fact. The intake of that region, also called Sudetenland, by the Third Reich. Thanks to the last agreement that Germany signed with the allied European powers just before the outbreak of the Second World War. My 3rd cousins ​​were suddenly conscripted into military service by two historical signatures. Nolens volens. Or voluntarily. From my follow-up research it became clear that the Wehrmacht did not have a high cap on Sudeten Germans. They were not sent to Stalingrad. At most, guarding a border in Italy as supervisors. I do not know whether the cousins ​​survived that adventure. They have a birth date around my father’s and would be over a hundred years now.

Do you want to know all this? Once you start stirring in history, you bring up facts that are unexpected, alienating or outright ghostly appearances. But at least you know where you come from. Why your family name sounds German. And where that sense of life of a well-to-do class with a predilection for nature finds its cause. What is missing for ever after this investigation is the illusion. The truth looks at you naked and in your face.

Original text in Dutch.


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