Do You Know Your History?

I happened to catch an advertisement for a new television show in which celebrities are assisted in learning about their family tree, i.e., their roots.  I’m really not too interested in the roots and family histories of celebrities.   Whether some actress or actor is related, distantly and unknowingly, to Mary the Queen of Scots has no bearing, other than entertainment value (I guess), on the person that the actress/actor is today.  I mean, if it takes television and a show to assist them in discovering a relationship to the past that they never knew existed, how important and relevant could it really be?  I don’t mean to be harsh but really . . . aren’t there better and more interesting discoveries about our history?  Take mine . . .

I am discovering more and more about my dearly and recently departed grandfather, Norbert Reinstein.  Here is what is written about him on the Holocaust Memorial website:

“Reinstein, Norbert


Reinstein was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1914, of Jewish parents and was attending medical school in Vienna when Austria was annexed by Germany in March 1938. He and his younger brother personally observed Hitler’s arrival in Vienna two days after the annexation and the enthusiasm with which Hitler was greeted by the people of Vienna. Even though Reinstein was in his final year of medical school, he was expelled because he was Jewish. When it became evident that there was no future for him in Austria, he twice attempted to leave illegally, i.e., without proper exit papers, once to Czechoslovakia, and once to Holland, only to be returned both times. On the eve of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, Reinstein and his brother were arrested by the Gestapo and the next day were taken to the Dachau concentration camp. He describes in detail the abuses he experienced during the trip and at the camp, as well as camp conditions. Since he had managed to obtain passage for his immigration to Shanghai, he was released from Dachau after eleven weeks, with the requirement to leave Germany within thirty-nine days.

Eventually he was able to leave for a transients’ camp in England, called Kitchener, where he taught English to other inmates. He and his brother stayed at the camp until March 1940, when his papers for emigration to the United States finally arrived.

Subsequent to his arrival in New York, Reinstein obtained work with a manufacturer of ski bindings and later, by chance, found his former girlfriend from Vienna. They were married in March 1941. In November 1942, he was drafted into the U. S. Army. Due to his previous medical training, he was assigned to various medical functions and was also selected for the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program), when attempted to complete his medical studies. He explains why he was not accepted into medical school, attributing it to being Jewish, a foreigner, and to procedural differences between the Austrian and U. S. school systems.

Following his discharge from the army, he entered the public health service and became very successful and respected in this field. Although currently eighty years old and retired, he continues to be involved in his field, consulting and teaching.

During the interview, Reinstein expresses his views of how Nazism got a foothold in Austria, leading to its annexation with Germany, and gives some historical background. He also explains his philosophy of life and gives the reasons for his return to a religious life from his previous secular Judaism. He believes anti-Semitism is still prevalent in Austria and Germany and that one should never forget what a country with a highly cultured background did to some of its own people.

All of Reinstein’s immediate family, except his brother and his wife’s parents, perished during the Holocaust.”

Rather than watch television to discover whether a celebrity is related, distantly, to someone from the Middle Ages or someone famous, I’m willing to bet that you’ll get more out of researching your own history.  Do you know your history?  How did your ancestors shape who you are and what you’ve become?  Do you have a hero, heroine in your past?  I bet . . . I didn’t need television to find out that I do.

(Please visit the Holocaust Memorial website,


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