Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The L, the E, and Vera

Trigger/Content Warning (TW/CW): the following blog post contains mentions of the Holocaust.  Reader discretion is advised.

Stock photo.
I have a hypothesis, if you will, about the exact background to my father's family story.

And it's based on two letters, the "L" and the "E".

If you have read my bio, you would know that I come from a family whose surnames are practical tongue twisters throughout most of the United States.

However, I made a discovery recently that may present a clearer picture of my father's background story that I have been trying to puzzle together for the past year or so.  Hell, I'm surprised I haven't brought it up until now.

According to my paternal grandmother, my father's father was named Jakow (say: YAK-ov) Pletin (say: plah-TEEN).  And for many years, that is all that she would admit to.

Now, for me, I wasn't told much about my father's history, as it was always shrouded with twists and turns and missing pieces.  What I do know about my paternal makeup is the following:
  • My father was born in 1943
  • My father was born in Ukraine
  • Mr. Pletin, as we would call my dad's dad, was a train operator for the Nazis.
  • My father had a half-brother, Anatoly (say: ah-na-toh-LEE)
  • My father and his parents fled Ukraine
  • My father and his parents lived in Germany for four years before relocating a second time to Belgium
  • My father and his parents were granted refugee status to come to the United States.
  • On the documentation of my grandparents' refugee papers, under "religion," it said: "orthodox." Not Christian Orthodox or Jewish Orthodox, just "orthodox."
But, what if Jakow Pletin wasn't Jakow Pletin?

A few months ago I stumbled upon some Jewish ancestry websites trying to see if "Pletin" or even "Didenko" would show up with some Jewish association to it.  A lot of sites had documentation dates of when folks were born, what cities and/or regions of the day, where they got bar mitzvah'd, and so on.

I did not find much for "Pletin."

However, I kept getting numerous hits for "Jakow Peltin."

It turns out, "Peltin" was a very popular Jewish surname in the Eastern Galatian region.

Much so as finding a birth record for Jakow Peltin, but no death record.  Very much like Jakow Pletin had a death date, but not a birth date.

My hypothesis: in order to evade being captured by the Nazis, a young Jakow decided to change the spelling of his surname by switching the E and L so that it would sound more Russian or Ukrainian, and not suspected Jewish.  Thus, he was hired as a SS train operator.  Somewhere along the way, the SS put two and two together and realized that this Jakow guy wasn't who he said he was, and the chase was on to capture him.  Jakow realized this, therefore taking his young wife, Anna, and their newborn son, Victor, out of Ukraine and into safer territory.  Meanwhile, Anna had to tell her other son, Anatoly, that she had to leave him with her parents until she "came back for" him.

Who knows?  If only the people in my blood family would only acknowledge where they came from, this would all make sense for everyone. 

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