Thursday, December 05, 2013

My Trace of Jewishness

I just learned that this fourth generation, native-born northern Rocky Mountain, Mormon-cultured boy is 1% Jewish by ethnicity.

For some time now I’ve used DNA tests to unearth or confirm genealogical connections, but this new insight comes from a new test by

It also estimates that I am 47% British, a third Irish and 8% western European.  My Quaker lineage obviously trumped my Alpienne Amish roots.

It turns out that while “exactly half of our genome derives from each parent…the fraction from grandparents is by chance,” according to Razib Khan who is studying for a PhD in evolutionary genetics at the University of California – Davis.

Until this month Khan blogged for Discover magazine on the topic when he moved over to The Unz Review, an intriguing new webzine.  He blogged this week on the use of genetics to excavate the historic flow of civilizations.

There are other “trace” ethnicities in my DNA including 2% Scandinavian and Iberian and 3% Greco-Roman, each of which I have traced genealogically as well.

This also gives me clues, as a hobbyist, to the origins of my British roots since that island was invaded by and then acculturated by Romans, Vikings and Normans, the latter two of which may explain the Iberian influence.

This DNA test also predicts the probability of my relationships to others conducting family research, giving me more certainty to dig down into their roots for connections or the ability to confirm ancestors I have discovered.

My trace of Jewish heritage may have been gleaned when Judea was a province of Rome, or from the large communities of Jews who settled in France and Germany after the fall of Rome, some of whom then migrated to Britain.

Or it could have become part of my lineage during the Crusades.  But I plan to dig further into possible connections where Jews gathered in two small Swiss villages along the German border in the Aargau area,  about 60 kilometers northwest from my roots on the shore of Lake Zurich.

These historic Jewish villages are only a couple of hours by highway today southwest of Tailfingen where a German branch of my roots lived for a few hundred years before both my Swiss and German branches migrated to America during the first half of 1700s. 

Coincidentally, and maybe now not so ironically, both areas came to have a later connection to my dad during the months before and after the German Reich fell to Allied troops in World War II.

Freed to sweep into southern Germany after being halted when fuel supplies had been shifted instead to British armies in the north, American units reached Tailfingen too late to free prisoners who had been brought west from Auschwitz to work on an airfield for German Night Fighters.

Instead they found only a mass grave and the remains of nearly 100 prisoners who had been cremated.  The remaining prisoners had been moved to other camps from which they were ultimately forced on a death march south to Dachau where those who survived would be liberated when the Americans reached that infamous camp.

My dad’s unit was dismounted from armor and remounted on horses and in Jeeps and in reconnaissance aircraft to patrol for NAZIs trying to flee to the south.

But in addition to processing prisoners for the return home, they were processing some of the nearly 60,000 civilian refugees and a similar number of soldiers and airmen who had been detained during the war in neutral Switzerland, many in conditions similar to concentration camps.

When my dad and some friends took an Army Jeep up into the Alps for a few days of snow skiing, they would have driven past those Jewish settlements along the border in Switzerland.   My dad may have learned by then that 20,000 to 25,000 Jewish refugees had been turned away at the Swiss border during the war to face certain death.

On a per capita basis, America was even more reluctant to accept Jewish refugees, ostensibly for fear of infiltrators.  More of a factor may be that the 1930s had been a period of virulent anti-Semitism here too.

These views were held by as much as half of all Americans even as the war came to an end, so I would not be surprised to learn that my dad held some of those views until he was sobered by Dachau.

I doubt he was any more aware of his own trace of Jewish heritage than I was until this week.

No comments: