But, then, in his late seventies, my father started drawing up a genealogical chart and, suddenly, he had a middle name; in fact, he had two of them: Philipp August. Now my sisters and I were even more puzzled. Philipp was the name of his mother's father and August was the name of his father's father. They are lovely names and my father never had anything negative to say about either man. Why, then, would he refuse to admit to having any middle name for more than half a century?
Then, just last week, my second cousin wrote to my sisters and me (upon hearing of both my father's and my mother's deaths) and along with her condolences, asked if we wish to exchange information about our ancestry, perhaps more about my grandfather Leo and our famous great-great uncle, the famous Leopold Sonnemann, publisher of the Frankfurter Zeitung and a champion for Jewish rights and social and monetary reform.
So, this email inspired me to toss a few search terms into Google and there it was:
Emmy Göring , wife of Hermann Göring - who not only was a top dog Nazi but the major thief of European art (watch the movie, Monument Men) - was said to be the great niece of the famous publisher, Leopold Sonnemann,...which would make her my great aunt. Oh. My. God. Yikes!
NOW it made sense why my father didn't want his middle name known. He didn't want his family name linked to Emmy Göring; after all, he had a top secret clearance and worked for the Department of Defense. He must have worried that someone might trace our family history back to the Nazi party and all the infamy of the convicted war criminal Herman Göring and of Adolf Hitler, who was best man at Hermann and Emmy's wedding.
He wasn't the only one in the family with this suspicion; I found out from my cousin that others had commented on "that horrible woman" being on our family tree.
But, then again, maybe not.
The journalists of yesteryear seem to be just as ethically challenged (anything that makes a good story) and as careless as our news reporters of today. Here is what appears to have happened: one journalist from the New York Post wrote a story which claimed Emmy Göring nee Sonnemann was Jewish and the grand-niece of Leopold Sonnemann and that her father was August Sonnemann, my father's grandfather. Then another paper, denying this story to be true, claimed that the first journalist erred in connecting her to my family because Emmy Sonnemann's father was a different August Sonnemann. But, it turns out, as far as I and my cousin have researched, that Emmy Göring's father was not an August at all nor was her father Jewish nor can I find her anywhere on the family tree! So, unless Hermann Göring really doctored up some good paperwork and our family managed to eliminate all traces of a black sheep, these 1935 journalists published stories without doing proper research or presenting any proof. The stories were good enough, though, to stir up a lot of gossip around the time of Emmy Sonnemann 's wedding to Hermann and served as a rather unnerving rumor that eventually affected my father and other relatives even though they should have had first hand (or at least second hand) information that would contradict these erroneous reports. But this goes to prove the power the press has upon people; there is a strange tendency for people to believe what they read even if it flies in the face of known facts or just seems to come out of nowhere. If a story is in a major newspaper, the journalist must be telling the truth or the editor wouldn't allow it to be published. Even I was taken aback by the story of my possible connection to Emmy Göring and I will probably research still more to be sure I am not missing something...even though there seems to be no basis for the claim at all.
So I say to everyone, don't just believe what you read in the paper; be sure there is evidence to back up any and all claims. Or like my father, you just might spend a lifetime hiding a "fact' that never really was one.