Linda Ambrus Broenniman, author of “The Politzer Saga”

For decades, this cardboard box of family secrets was kept hidden in a closet, and miraculously survived a house fire, before its astounding contents were finally discovered.

A Daughter’s Search for Heritage

Her Parents Take Their Astonishing Holocaust Secret to Their Graves

For decades, this cardboard box of family secrets was kept hidden in a closet, and miraculously survived a house fire, before its astounding contents were finally discovered.

January 2024

BY STEPHANIE HASKINS

When Linda Ambrus Broenniman was 27, she discovered she wasn’t exactly who she thought she was.

Broenniman was raised by two loving immigrant Hungarian parents who came to the U.S. after World War II, in 1949, to start new lives. Yet unbeknownst to her, they’d endured unspeakable horror in their homeland, and they wanted to keep it in the past.

Julian and Clara Ambrus were accomplished physicians with PhDs in pathophysiology. They eventually settled in Buffalo, New York in 1955 when the Roswell Park Memorial Institute (now the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center) recruited both of them. Julian became an oncologist while Clara worked mostly with premature babies.

And they welcomed a houseful of their own offspring.

Catholic kids.

Broenniman, the middle child of seven, says she and her siblings had pretty normal lives, went to private secular schools, attended church, and that was that.

Or was it?

Turns out, it wasn’t that at all.

 

Linda Ambrus Broenniman’s entire family outside their home in Buffalo, New York in 1973. (L-R): Her grandmother Elizabeth Ambrus (her father’s mother), her brother Charles Ambrus, her brother Steven Ambrus, her sister Katherine Ambrus Cheney, her brother Peter Ambrus, Linda, her brother Julian Ambrus, her grandmother Charlotte Bayer (her mother’s mother), her sister Madeline Ambrus Lillie, her brother-in-law David Lillie, her mother Clara Bayer Ambrus, her father Julian Ambrus, and their two Hungarian Vizsla dogs, Puck and Rusty. After the family moved into the home in 1963, Clara kept her cardboard box of hidden secrets in a closet in her office; it miraculously survived the 2011 house fire that killed Clara and destroyed much of the house. Julian had the home rebuilt and lived there until his death in 2020. 

 

One day, back in 1983, the godmother of one of Broenniman’s sisters told her—by accident—that their father was actually Jewish.

“My sister asked her, ‘What was my great-grandmother like?’” Broenniman says. “And when the answer started with ‘Well, like many Jewish women…’ my sister did a double take and said to her, ‘What do you mean?’”

“Oops, I thought your mother had told you,” her godmother responded.

Broenniman says this revelation was like a lightning strike. “I felt it in my bones,” she recalls.

In fact, it became the first of many stunning disclosures about her family, and prompted Broenniman to start searching for the truth about her ancestry.

About her roots.

About herself.

Broenniman’s mother confirmed to her and her sister that her father was indeed Jewish, but she wouldn’t offer up any further information. She simply didn’t want to talk about it.

“I know my mother went to my father and told him we knew,” Broenniman says. “But my father was one of those unapproachable men. If you pushed him, he’d say things like ‘We don’t talk about that.’ He was a master deflector. He would change the subject and you just couldn’t get there.”

And it stayed that way.

“I think he just wanted to protect his family,” Broenniman explains. “I can’t judge him.”

But protect them from what?

Years passed.

In the 1980s, “I was in my late 20s, trying to figure out my career. It just didn’t affect me much at all,” Broenniman says about her father’s Jewish identity. “Religion never played an important part in my life.”

As the years went by, through intermittent, sporadic conversations and a couple trips with her parents to visit their Hungarian homeland, Broenniman was able to put together some of the bits and pieces of her parents’ immigrant story, but still with almost no substantial help from either.

“My father was working all the time so most of my conversations were with my mother. There were some untruths told in there,” Broenniman says. “I was sad that the stories of this really incredible family had been hidden away,” she says.

 

Clara and Julian Ambrus pose near the Danube River during a 1991 visit to their homeland of Budapest, Hungary. 

 

Then, during a trip in the early 1990s, Broenniman says her repeated questioning seemed to finally wear her mother down, prompting a stunning response.

She told her daughter: “I hid a few people.”

Hid?

Hid people?

Broenniman says she initially didn’t fully grasp the enormity of the answer.

“It did strike me,” she says, “but I didn’t really understand history well enough at the time.”

Broenniman says her mother’s admission was stated so simply, and humbly, that “the significance of her actions, or the incredible courage that had to take” failed to immediately sink in.

Broenniman’s follow-up queries later were ignored. She couldn’t pry any additional information from her mother.

Or her father.

Both her parents seemed determined to take the answers to her many questions to their graves.

Flash forward to 2006 when her mother, who by then had sadly fallen into the fog of Alzheimer’s, revealed in a moment of lucidity that there was a box of some sort, in the family house perhaps, with “documents that held answers.”

Yet after a search, another dead end. No box was found.

“Maybe the box existed only in her imagination,” Broenniman remembers thinking at the time. Today, she says, “I think the truth is that she wanted us to know. Finally.”

That same year, much to Broenniman and her siblings’ complete shock, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, Israel announced it was awarding her Catholic mother, Clara Bayer Ambrus, with the title of “The Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor it bestows to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust.

“I didn’t even know what it was,” Broenniman remembers.

 

The Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. 

 

The organization wrote, in part: “On October 15, 1944 the Arrow Cross Fascist movement seized power and instituted a reign of terror in Budapest. Hundreds of Jews were shot in the streets and on the banks of the Danube; others were drafted for brutal forced labor. On November 8, 1944, the Hungarians concentrated more than 70,000 Jews—men, women, and children in the Ujlaki brickyards in Obuda. From there they were taken on a forced march to camps in Austria. Thousands were shot and thousands more died as a result of starvation or exposure to the bitter cold.”

It was during this period, according to the Holocaust Remembrance Center, that Broenniman’s mother hid a Jewish friend she’d had since childhood inside her home. She then gave the friend her identity card, enabling her to leave Budapest. Eventually, Clara hid the friend’s entire family “in the attic and cellar of a factory building.” More than 20 other Jews found refuge in the same place and Clara helped all of them obtain false identity papers.

Broenniman was stunned, yet again, by these revelations. But it wouldn’t be the last time. Even more gasp-worthy surprises were still to come, when she would later learn the identities of some of the other people her mother helped save.

The Israeli Consulate in New York held a ceremony in honor of Clara Bayer Ambrus, and Broenniman and her entire family attended. Yet due to Clara’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Broenniman isn’t sure how much her mother actually comprehended.

 

Julian Ambrus, Clara Bayer Ambrus, Ambassador Arye Meckel, the Consul General of Israel, and Ambassador Gábor Horváth, the Consul General of Hungary, at the 2006 Israeli Consulate ceremony in New York City. Clara was honored with the title of “The Righteous Among the Nations.” It’s an award bestowed to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jewish people during the Holocaust.

 

Broenniman would later learn that it was her mother’s Jewish friend, the one she had hidden and saved from the Nazis, who recommended her for the award. This friend also went on to become a noted doctor, and resides in Sweden.

Clara Bayer Ambrus’ name was then inscribed on the honor wall in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. She joined an illustrious roster, including Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.

 

In 2006, Clara Bayer Ambrus’ name (inset) was inscribed on the honor wall in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. 

 

With this astounding new information, Broenniman says she tried yet again, but to no avail, to find out more from her father.

“I knew he would still just deflect,” she says.

He simply refused to discuss anything further about his life, or his wife’s life, back in Hungary more than 60 years earlier.

Five more years passed.

In 2011, a fire caused by an electric heater tore through Broenniman’s parents’ house—her childhood home—in Buffalo. Her mother was horribly injured and died after two weeks in a hospital burn unit.

She was 86.

Her father survived, with only minor injuries.

“He kept saying ‘It’s a miracle that we survived at all,’” Broenniman remembers. Knowing what she knows now, she adds, “I think he was looking for another miracle. And it wasn’t going to happen.”

The house could, and would, be rebuilt.

In the meantime, the family salvaged and stored away whatever the fire failed to destroy.

Among the items saved: a cardboard box that one of Broenniman’s sisters found in a closet in their mother’s office—in an area of the house untouched by flames. In the rush to rescue everything, no one ever opened the box and it was put into storage, and forgotten.

 

This tattered old box, saved from the Ambrus family’s house fire in 2011, had been stored in Clara Ambrus’ office for years, unnoticed and unopened by other family members. 

 

For another five years.

In 2016, the family re-discovered the box, opened it (finally!), and was stunned (yet again!) to find an historical treasure trove: letters, photographs, and documents that revealed the existence of a hidden family—their family—real people who had lived and breathed and thrived, even prospered, in a world of vibrant Jewish culture.

Growing up, Broenniman says her mother loved to put together albums of their family photos. But most all of the pictures had been taken in the U.S., post-immigration. “There were just a few old ones. I remember several times asking ‘Who are these people?’ and they would always say ‘I don’t remember.’”

This box unearthed a world that Broenniman and her siblings had no idea even existed. Unfortunately, most everything in it was written in Hungarian—a language only her parents spoke, and one they seemed to have no interest in ever teaching their children.

Yet as she pored through the genealogical discoveries, Broenniman came across a book that contained a family tree—written in English, surprisingly—apparently put together by her grandmother on her father’ s side. The branches of the tree detailed eight generations, reaching back to a family named Politzer.

Among the members: Adam Politzer, a Hungarian and Austrian physician and one of the pioneers of otology, a branch of medicine that studies the anatomy and physiology of the ear.

This was Broenniman’s family.

Her forebears. Her ancestors.

The people whose blood ran through her veins.

 

Adam Politzer, sitting on his great-grandmother’s balcony in Budapest. Hungary in 1902. 

Adam Politzer with his medical students in 1908.

Linda Broenniman poses by a statute of Adam Politzer in 2022; the monument stands in Albertirsa, Hungary, where Politzer was raised.

 

Yet, remarkably, Broenniman and her siblings decided against telling their father that they’d even found the box.

“My sister thought he’d be very, very upset,” Broenniman says.

In the subsequent months and years after discovering the contents of that box, Broenniman worked with a Hungarian researcher and others to help track down and explore old records, pore through ancient archives and files, visit graveyards and landmarks, identify the still standing homes of long-dead relatives, and stand on the same patches of real estate where many of her forebears had stood decades earlier.

And she learned the truth about Julian Ambrus, her father.

“I found letters between him and my mother that were heartbreaking,” Broenniman says.

Her research revealed that Nazi Germany imprisoned her grandfather Sandor Ambrus (Julian’s father), in a labor camp in April of 1944. Julian and his mother never saw him again.

Broenniman discovered Sandor was then sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and later to the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany. What happened next remains unknown.

“There are conflicting documents” that may explain his fate, Broenniman says. In April 1945, just three days before the liberation of the Dachau camp, the Nazis forced about 7,000 prisoners on a death march through the Bavarian Alps to Ötztal, Austria.

“And these people were horrifically sick,” Broenniman says. “He might have been left behind because he was on a list of people who had tuberculosis. We don’t really know.”

Although a series of anti-Jewish laws and decrees introduced in 1938 banned marriages and sexual relations between Jewish men and non-Jewish women, Broenniman says her Jewish father and Catholic mother had been dating for 18 months before he, too, was ordered into a labor camp in May 1944—just a month after his father Sandor was taken from the family.

“Two days before he was drafted he proposed to her,” Broenniman says.

They were only 19.

Soon afterwards, Broenniman learned that her grandmother, Elizabeth Ambrus—Sandor’s wife and Julian’s mother—was taken into hiding by her mother, Clara.

Julian was sent to a camp in the Carpathian Mountains, which is now part of Slovakia. “He lived in horrible conditions,” Broenniman says. In October 1944, the camp was bombed and most of the people in it were killed. Only Julian and five other men survived, and they escaped.

Eventually, Julian made it back to Budapest but had no place safe to stay.

And that’s when Clara hid yet another Jew: her soon-to-be husband, Julian.

As thousands more Hungarian Jews were shot in the streets or marched to their deaths in camps, Clara saved Julian from the same fate.

 

Sandor, Julian and Elizabeth Ambrus in Budapest in 1938.

 

Broenniman, once again, was simply floored by her discoveries.

“My mother was the kind of person who would help anyone, so of course she would hide my father and grandmother,” Broenniman says. “But the courage she must have summoned when the Nazis knocked on her door daily to search the complex was astounding. Should any one person been found, they would have all been shot.”

Still, Broenniman says she didn’t piece together the whole story, sadly, until after her father died in 2020, at the age of 95.

He remained tight-lipped until the very end.

“During the last three years of his life I’d call him all the time and try to push him,” Broenniman says—still with no success.

Today, four years later, Broenniman says she “can respect his decision now, even though I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand it.”

Perhaps Julian Ambrus just couldn’t speak about the unspeakable.

“My father lived through unimaginable atrocities and the death of many of his family members simply because he was born Jewish,” Broenniman says.

She returns to the notion that her parents simply wanted to “protect” their family. “I believe that they hoped that we, their children, should never have to face what they faced.”

 

Linda Broenniman, her husband Edward, her mother Clara Ambrus and her father Julian Ambrus, in 2003.  

 

Broenniman’s research further revealed that after World War II ended, her father and mother both attended a medical school in Szeged, Hungary and then finished their medical degrees in hematology and pharmacology in Zurich, Switzerland. They married in 1945 before immigrating to the U.S. four years later.

“America was still very anti-Semitic at that time,” Broenniman says. “He had converted. It was easier to just say, ‘Hey, we’re Catholic.’”

Eventually, she decided to write it all down, all that she had learned, in order to save and preserve her fascinating family history and to reveal, at long last, the wondrous truth about her parents and their secret lives.

The result is called The Politzer Saga.

 

Just some of the photos, letters and documents that Linda Broenniman includes in her book, The Politzer Saga.

 

Ultimately, this 286-page tome is about family, about people who lived the best they could, sometimes in nearly impossible and brutally unbearable circumstances. They were people determined to pass on their traditions of hard work, decency, determination, love, and faith.

Broenniman lovingly profiles her forebears; sometimes they’re ordinary people, but often they’re extraordinary.

Still, “My dad had no idea that we were researching our history and he had no idea that I was capturing it all in a book,” she explains. “We thought he would be very upset, which is why I never told him. He was in his 90s and getting quite frail.”

So impressive is The Politzer Saga that it’s also now part of a permanent exhibition in The Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary where the book had its international launch. Once a World War II deportation point for Jews sent to their deaths, the Rumbach is now a lively multipurpose Jewish cultural center. The exhibit is comprised of 10 lyrical and artistically rendered short films about eight generations of Politzers, based on the stories in the book.

Perhaps surprisingly, Broenniman’s father agreed to be interviewed for the films shortly before his death. “He spoke about his past, some of his relatives, about leaving Hungary, about becoming a doctor. But he refused to acknowledge that he was Jewish,” she explains.

And no mention, as far as Broenniman knows, about her mother hiding and saving him.

 

The Politzer Saga exhibit in the Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary includes filmed interviews with Linda Broenniman and her father, Julian Ambrus.  

Linda Broenniman and her father Julian Ambrus, in 2012.

 

Broenniman wonders how her father would react, had he lived to see both The Politzer Saga exhibit and the publication of the book.

She says she never once saw him cry, and he never told her that he loved her.

“But I felt loved by him,” she explains. “He was a stoic fellow but underneath he was very sentimental.”

Her parents, she says, “could argue with the best of them” but “my mother just adored my father.” And he cared for her unconditionally when she succumbed to Alzheimer’s.

Despite their lifelong insistence to keep the truth about their struggles and triumphs under wraps, it was never a secret, Broenniman says, that “they were totally in love.”

 

Clara and Julian Ambrus in 1945.

 

Editor’s Note: Stephanie Haskins spoke at length with Linda Broenniman about “The Politzer Saga.” Below is more of their Q&A; it’s been edited for clarity.

 

When you first learned of your Jewish heritage, did you look at your Catholic upbringing and belief system differently, and if so, how?

I was young; I was focused on my career. At the time, I didn’t think about the implications, what being half Jewish meant. I also didn’t really understand history.

Besides the surprise of learning about your undisclosed heritage, did you also experience feelings of anger or elation or disappointment? Did you somehow feel you’d been cheated?

At the time of the revelation, I was not conscious of any of these feelings—I took the news in stride, didn’t think deeply about it, and went on with my life. If any of these feelings were there at all, they stayed hidden, unconscious, until 35 years later when I began to look into my family history.

Did you have any “Oh yeah, NOW that makes sense!” moments when you learned of your own personal history?

The revelation did not feel surprising. Rather, I remember thinking “This feels natural to me.” Many of my closest friends were Jewish. My mother always told us that we always treat all humans with respect and dignity—no matter their race, religion, color of their skin, economic status, etc. I lived that. I have always been comfortable around all groups of people.

Why do you think your parents were so reluctant to embrace their Jewishness here in the U.S. when they immigrated here? New York City had a sizable Jewish population that would likely have embraced them. Any speculation about that?

Growing up, my parents were silent, unwilling to speak about their past. I will never truly know why; I will never truly know why my father didn’t embrace his Jewish heritage. I can only speculate. My father lived through unimaginable atrocities and the death of many of his family members, simply because he was born Jewish.

Even though my mother was Catholic, she also experienced terror, as she risked her life to save Jews, including my father and grandmother. I imagine that when they immigrated to America, they wanted to leave those horrors behind. The U.S. at the time was very anti-semitic.

They first moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where they were young professors at Thomas Jefferson Medical School and later moved to Buffalo, New York to work at Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute. They were brilliant young doctors, focused on their career and starting a new family. With a Catholic wife, it was easier for my father to convert and for the Jewish question to “go away.”

I can only speculate, but I believe that they wanted to protect their family. I believe that they hoped that we (their children) should never have to face what they faced.

Do you have any sense of the personal anguish your forebears endured when they felt compelled to present as Christians? Any idea how much they actually embraced their new belief system and the Catholic tradition? That’s a HUGE leap of faith, so to speak.

I wish I knew the answer to that question, but I could not penetrate the web of secrecy my parents created. There were no questions about their past. If they felt any personal anguish, they hid it well.

Based on my father’s actions, I believe he embraced Catholicism with enthusiasm. He was President of the Buffalo Catholic Physicians Guild, President of the Catholic Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. and a Commander in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic order of Knighthood dating back to the first Crusades

But looking back, I realized that my father embraced the Jewish values that would have been passed down from his family. I think of the Jewish value of Tikkun olam. My father believed in service, in making a difference, and improving the world. He did so through the practice of medicine and medical research.

I’m not sure my grandmother, my father’s mother [Elizabeth Ambrus, who immigrated to the U.S. with Linda’s parents] embraced Catholicism so enthusiastically. I was surprised when I went to the Jewish cemetery in Budapest to see that her name was engraved on the family crypt, although she was buried in Buffalo.

 

Linda Broenniman and her grandmother Elizabeth Ambrus in 1960; Ambrus immigrated to the U.S. in 1956, seven years after Broenniman’s parents. “I was very close to her,” Broenniman says. “She would not talk about the past either. She never admitted she was Jewish and went to church with us every Sunday. I would have loved to have learned more about my family directly from her. She would have known Adam Politzer and many of the other family members I talk about in the book.” Elizabeth died in 1985, decades before Linda would learn how her mother Clara hid both Elizabeth and her son Julian (Linda’s father and Clara’s eventual husband), saving them from the Nazis. 

 

How much had you been exposed to the Jewish tradition before you made your discovery? Did you ever feel any sort of unexplainable attraction to the faith system and liturgy?

We were raised Catholic. I had virtually no exposure to the Jewish tradition growing up.

How much have you embraced Judaism over the years? Some? None? A lot?  

Organized religion never spoke to me. No organized religion—Catholicism, Judaism, or other. However, I am very proud of my Jewish ancestors and their incredible faith, even though they suffered tremendously because of it.

How has your own spiritual life changed? How about your siblings?

Though religion was important to my parents, it has never played a major role in my life. My spiritual life has not changed, nor do I believe it has changed for my siblings, but I am reluctant to speak for them.

Your book describes the struggles of multiple generations of the Politzer clan. Most of the main players were men. Do you wish you could have known more about the women in your family who periodically played such huge roles in your family’s story?

How I wish I could know more about my family members—the men, but mostly the women! I wrote the book as a way to connect to them. But for many of the women members I had very little information. As described in Chapter 10 of the book, “In the 19th century, women’s stories rarely made the papers. Except for birth and death certificates, official documents were the provenance of men.”

I was lucky to have found the two biographies written by family members—Our Family History by Zsigmond Politzer (1842-1920) and a second book written by my father’s cousin about his experiences during World War II. These two sources provided some details and stories about my female ancestors that I could not have found anywhere else.

Some of the women in your family seemed to be amazing people: strong, resilient, very intelligent and successful in their own ways, considering the times and places they lived. Do you feel bits of them in yourself and how you look at the world?

I would like to think that I inherited some qualities from my women ancestors. I think about them often: Rachel, my great-grandmother from the 1700s and her tremendous faith, willing to defy authority to uphold her beliefs; my great-great grandmother Jozefa, known for her inner beauty and generous philanthropy; my great-grandmother Margit, known for her kindness, compassion, and generosity. I am especially in awe of Margit’s strength and resilience; she lived through two wars and three revolutions, and yet never lost her spirit. My grandmother Elizabeth, whose Hungarian nickname was Bözsi, her fortitude after losing her husband, leaving behind her home, and giving up her Jewish identity. And my mother, her courage and humility; she risked her life to save Jews and kept it a secret for 60 years.

 

Margit Misner Politzer, Lina Broenniman’s great-grandmother, in 1955. 

 

One of the more amazing and interesting revelations for me was reading your description of how your relatives acquired their names. I assumed that process was much, much older, and not as recent as the early 19th century—and that it was a government mandated process. Talk to me about that. Just fascinating.

The decree for Jews to acquire family names was part of the 1782 Edict of Tolerance. Except for the wealthy “court” Jews [a Jewish banker who handled the finances of, or lent money to, royalty and nobility], most Jews in the Austro-Hungarian empire didn’t have surnames, but used a patronym [a component of a personal name based on the given name of one’s father, grandfather or an earlier male ancestor] to identify themselves.

To enable tax control and registration, Emperor Joseph II required Jews to take a surname. It was rare that Jews could choose their names. In practice, the authorities gave them their names. As described in the book, names could be based on one’s occupation, on their town or region, on their financial status, on their looks, or on something other whim of the authorities.

[Broenniman’s great-great grandfather] Eisik was not a very wealthy man. So the authorities gave him the name Politzer, from the town of Police (or Pulice), which today is Police u Jemnice in the Czech Republic. It is the same town where Joseph Pulitzer’s family originated. There were some letters found that seemed to indicate we were cousins, but the evidence was inconclusive. The families were definitely friends.

I was surprised that your Hungarian forebears were so invested in Catholic educations for their kids. Why didn’t the Jewish community create its own schools to rival those of the Jesuits and Dominicans?

My ancestors, typical of many Jews of their day, believed that education was of most importance. They were going to give their children the best education possible. The Austro-Hungarian empire was mostly Catholic, and I presume that this is why the best schools were run by Catholic priests.

Historians may have a better answer to the question of why. What I learned, as mentioned in Chapter 7, is that Jewish boys often represented up to 60 percent of students, even though Jewish parents had to pay three times the tuition.

How has this personal journey of discovery changed your life and the lives of your siblings?

For me, a certain peace came from knowing the truth. I learned there is genuine wisdom in the saying, “The truth will set you free.” I was able to let go of the fear and doubt that had been lifetime companions and replace them with strength and a new confidence. Knowing that I had deep roots beyond my parents and grandparents helped me feel more connected to this world. The weight of not knowing had lifted. I felt lighter

Knowing my family history, anti-semitic events touch me differently now. The pain of such horror is palpable, personal. They are not talking about other people. In a different time and place, those events might have happened to me.

During your research, did you find one particular ancestor that most spoke to you over the generations? Someone whose soul most seems to be a part of yours?

That is a very difficult question. I feel connected to many of them. [Aside from the female ancestors mentioned above], of my male ancestors, I think about Ignácz Misner [Broenimann’s great-great grandfather], how he came from poverty to build a successful legal career. He was a fantastic orator and writer, yet what he loved most was his family, his country, his home, and his gardens. But the Nazis stripped him of his possessions and forced him to live in a single room. Yet he refused to take off the yellow star, wearing his Judaism with pride. He died of starvation at age 99 in 1944 in the ghetto in Budapest. He is buried in a mass grave. Only his name is on the family crypt.

And I think about my grandfather Sandor [her father’s father, who was never seen again after the Nazis took him away in 1944], his sense of humor, his kindness and generosity, and his spirit of adventure. He was also a talented writer of poetry. I hope that I have inherited some of these qualities.

 

Ignácz Misner with his two granddaughters in 1907, including (on the left) Elizabeth Ambrus, Linda Broenniman’s grandmother (her father Julian Ambrus’ mother).

Linda Broenniman’s great-great-grandfather Ignácz Misner purchased this family crypt shortly after the Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest, Hungary opened in 1891. It’s the largest Jewish cemetery In Budapest, and one of the largest in Europe, with more than 300,000 Jews buried there. Broenniman says at least five of her ancestors have been laid to rest in this crypt and “I could be buried there” as well, though she hasn’t yet made any plans to do so.

 

Although your book is focused on discovering the past, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you for your thoughts about the rise of anti-semitism today, and the horror of the Hamas attack on Israel this past October.

The dramatic escalation of anti-semitic incidents, anti-Jewish rhetoric, and threats on college campuses–I have not seen, nor did I ever expect to see this in my lifetime. But my father didn’t need to imagine such a world. He had lived it. I think about how he chose to bury the past, to hide his roots. I still don’t agree with his decision. I still wish he had shared his remarkable family with me. That they could have been part of my life sooner. I will never be sure, but seeing the world right now, I can imagine his fear, his need to protect his family, in any way he could.

I think of my mother. She was severely diminished by Alzheimer’s when asked at the Israeli consulate, after being honored as Righteous Among Nations, why she had risked her life to save Jews. She answered clearly and with conviction, “I did what any decent human being would do.”

And so I hope, I pray, that the world will unite to condemn all atrocities, to do what decent human beings would do. There is no room for hate and violence. We must solve our differences in another way.

 

The Politzer Saga is available for purchase on Amazon.

 

Editor’s Note: Stephanie Haskins was so moved by “The Politzer Saga” that it prompted her to reflect on her own ancestry, and how Americans everywhere have become equally obsessed with finding the truth about their roots. To read her commentary, click here.

 

COMMENTS

3 people commented on "A Daughter’s Search for Heritage"
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment as well.

  • Roberta Shuman says:

    I have just finished reading this compelling story. I am in awe! It’s going to take me some time to ultimately absorb. Thank you so much for publishing it on Facebook.

  • Veronica Raymond says:

    This is a story of love against all odds of hatred and racism. Thank you for sharing this incredible story of bravery against tyranny.

  • Sue Gottschall Sullivan (Mother née Sarkozi born in 1920 January n Budapest and came to US in1922 says:

    How very brave all these amazing people were! I visited Auschwitz and Dauchau in 1994 and could feel the horror that permeated both places but especially Auschwitz! It was EVIL but that does not come close to describing the feeling there! My family were Protestant which from what little I have learned was quite unusual! I loved Budapest and the wonderful people I met and am so grateful to have Vistited Hungary! My grandmother’s maiden m Namw was Kramer it Krammer and my grandfather Sarkozi’s sister was aRaskai. May Gid Bless all! Thank you for sharing❤️

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