The Photograph in Auschwitz
A lost Heritage
My name, Lilley, is...in essence. A lie. A shield used to protect my family from a long lost daemon that once ruled half of Europe and was slowly killing off those people whom it saw as inferior. Gays, Homeless, Jehovah’s Witnesses and, in far greater numbers than all the rest combined. Jews.
My true last name, the surname our family had carried for centuries and one that dated back to the times of Leonardo and Michelangelo, is Fraggrionelli. I only learnt this after a History assignment when I was fourteen, and digging back into my family tree I could only trace the name Lilley back to 1943. After that the names became extremely Italian and I was seeing names and pictures of people who I had never even known existed. In truth, our family had been Italian Jews living in Rome, a large family according to the records that appeared onto my computer screen with every click of the mouse, with over twenty six members ranging from ages nine months to eighty-four. One of the names I instantly recognised as my Grandfather, he was only a boy when he left Italy, out of twenty six people...only three managed to board a ship leaving Italy and find safety in Ireland.
My Grandfather later confessed to me that his older brother had changed their names to Lilley in order to protect them from anymore racial prejudice, before returning back to Italy to try and rescue anymore refugees. He never came back.
With my curiosity peaked with this part of our family history that had literally been buried to protect its three youngest members I dove back into the records to find out what had happened to those other twenty three people that had once called themselves Fraggrionelli. What I found profoundly changed the person I was and am today. Clicking the mouse records appeared with the Nazi eagle stamped in oppressive black ink into the corner, the Swastika clutched in its talons and just one word inscribed in fine hand next to each name of my long lost family members.
That word was burned onto my mind as a fourteen year old about to enter into the world of men; I stared at the screen for close to half an hour just reading each name over and over again. So much so I could still repeat each of them to you now along with their age, gender, weight and eye colour. Each one somebody's darling. Each one a life snubbed out like a candle. Each one a living, breathing, feeling human being that had been forced into a world they did not deserve. The youngest, Maria Isabella Fraggrionelli, was only nine months old. A baby.
I knew the Nazi's killed people. Everyone did. It seemed engrained in humanity since the first time you drew breath, you always knew the Nazi's were the bad guys, the people who did wrong. Later these childlike dreams were replaced with solid fact...the Nazis needlessly slaughtered over six million people at the whims of a mad man. Yet somehow, these facts, these numbers, always seemed somehow...distant. They never made me feel anything. I always just treated them with a mild sadness. Until I thought about baby Maria, about the life she could have lead, about the man she could have married, about the children she could have had and the grandchildren she could have had. Seeing the names of my family beside that horrific word made every atrocity the Nazis every committed seem all of a sudden very real.
So when my college organised a trip to that awful place I leapt at it, telling my story to the teachers planning the seven man expedition they were quick to write my name down on the 'Approved' side of a roughly drawn chart on the bits of paper in front of them. Leaving college that day to tell my parents I felt somehow more connected to my roots than I ever did before, I felt perversely like I was going there to placate their spirits. My sister and I are living proof that although they made the ultimate sacrifice, their final desperate act to get their children out of Italy worked. Their name lived on in us. And I was going there to tell them that.