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.

Linda Ambrus Broenniman, author of “The Politzer Saga”

A Daughter’s Search for Heritage

Her Parents Take Their Astonishing Holocaust Secret to Their Graves


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?’” (more…)

Though Stephanie Haskins was born in rural Minnesota, a few decades back, she says her roots are mainly in Norway.

A Reflection on Ancestry

Why Understanding Our Own Roots Helps Us Better Appreciate Others


January 2024

BY STEPHANIE HASKINS

I just finished reading The Politzer Saga (read my review here) and author Linda Ambrus Broenniman’s deep and fascinating dive into her family’s roots got me thinking about my own.

My musings might not be fodder for an entire book, or land me an exhibition in a European place of worship (where The Politzer Saga is honored), but I still think they’re worth sharing. After all, everybody has a story.

When I was a kid growing up in my little Minnesota town, it was OK to say and believe that our nation was a “melting pot”—that we Americans are all part of some cohort of immigrants who came to this country from some other part of the world.

We believed that carrying the blood, if you will, of people who chose to come here from some other place was something of which to be proud.

Sad to say, however, in recent years many White, radical, “Conservative Christians” (a.k.a. Republicans) have chosen to ignore that we all came from somewhere else (except for those indigenous to the land). But hey, it’s always more convenient just to hate people whose languages are different. Or have different skin tones.

“Melting Pot” has become a pejorative.

Unless, perhaps, the stuff that’s in it is stewing in a “white” sauce.

Ahem.

So, like it or not, in the grand scheme of things for our billions-of-years-old planet, the 400 years since the establishment of the Plymouth Colony are pretty much like a couple of days ago.

I was born with the blood of people mainly from Norway, Germany, and England coursing through my veins. I later learned there were some corpuscles from France and Ireland and the Iberian peninsula as well. But teeny amounts.

I am your typical White chick.

And in Minnesota, being of Norwegian or Swedish or German extraction meant that I was part of the majority population.

Soooo White.

Soooo Anglo.

Up until I was 10 or so, I knew very little about my ancestors—on either side—because, well, I was a kid.

But that changed when my great Aunt Bertha, who was a genealogist, presented me with a loose leaf binder filled with original drawings of coats of arms and family crests and an actual family tree illustrating who my English and German forebears were.

The Ames family.

They were art of the earliest contingent of settlers who came to the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts in the early half of the 1600s.

My Aunt Bertha was terribly proud that our family came from to those settlers—the Pilgrims and the Puritans—who first came to the Massachusetts shore in 1620.

I grew up loving history, so I was proud, too. And I could prove where I came from—because it said so in that wonderful book about our particular segment of the Ames clan she’d given to me.

I later learned that, after its arrival in the Plymouth colony, the Ames family had grown and prospered in the Massachusetts towns of Salem, Braintree, and Boston.

As time passed, I came to know a lot about that tribe of east coast patricians who were founding members of my American family on my mother’s side, and how they’d prospered in the northeastern coastal states until some of their brave sons and daughters moved west to the fertile lands of Minnesota and Iowa a couple hundred years later.

My mother’s father, my grandfather, was a full blooded Norwegian, but he was extremely close-mouthed about his upbringing, and in truth, had no interest in discussing his family.

He’d been orphaned at the age of 12. And because he was so young when his parents died—apparently of some disease like smallpox, or typhoid fever or maybe even tuberculosis—he’d never asked or never been told about his roots in great detail.

A whole chunk of family history lost when his parents died unexpectedly.

The little I do know is that my grandfather’s parents married young, had two sons, and had farms or ranches in both Kansas (more…)

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