Tuesday, November 09, 2010

You, me and the Beast of Balzano

My last name, Seifert, is just unusual enough that folks often ask me if I’m related to other Seiferts.

A florist in Denver often comes up and a car dealer in Iowa. I have no idea who they are.

And then there’s George Seifert, the famed San Francisco Forty-Niners’ coach. He pronounces his name See-fert.

I’m Sigh-fert. No direct connection but he’s no doubt part of the clan. Some may see a resemblance between George, to the right, and me, below.

Of course, if my name were as common as Jones, Cohen or Martinez, none of these "name" questions would arise.

I mention this because in today’s New York Times we learn that one Michael Seifert died Saturday.

I read with some shock that Seifert had been an notorious SS guard in Italy during the Second World War and had committed horrific crimes.

Some friends probably wondered whether he’s a distant relative, though I doubt anyone will ask.

We all have our little family secrets of course. Fortunately, Michael isn’t one of ours ... at least that I know of.

And yet ... .

The Times ran two photos of Michael Seifert. One was of him as a young man and SS guard. His crimes, which included rape and murder, earned him the grim appellation “The Beast of Bolzano.”

The other photo showed him as the old man who was extradited from Vancouver, B.C. after being tracked down there. He died at age 86 after serving close to three years of a life sentence in an Italian military prison.

I suppose I could read into those photos some family resemblance. Something around the eyes perhaps. The droop of the lids. Who knows?

The story got me thinking about “family” in a different way. Just where does family begin, and where does it end? When do we let go?

And what about names? Half of me is actually Welsh/English. The Welsh part is Lewis. But I’m never asked about being a Lewis because it isn’t in my name, though it is in my blood. Besides, “Lewis” is a common enough not to attract inquiries about whether I'm related to C.S., Meriwether or John L..

I do know that coal miners were three generations back on the Lewis side. The Seifert side produced doctors and dentists — and no prison guards that I know of.

But all this seems rather short-sighted. Names shouldn’t define us. Nor should families (although they do, for better or worse).

Let’s face it, somewhere eons ago, I became related to you, and you became related to me — names, “families” and race not withstanding.

If Michael Seifert’s gene pool can be more directly traced to me by name, it is all relative ... and relatives — mine AND yours.

Are YOU related to Michael Seifert, the Beast of Balzano?

Aren't we all?

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Blogger wheels said...

Interesting discussion of a possible hereditary grimace common to all Seiferts. I'd add that like your Welsh name, Lewis, which is certainly an Anglicised version of a Welsh language name (just like Wheeler and my mother's maiden name, Williams, are), it's always possible that Seifert was modified from some other name, German or otherwise, centuries ago in order to assimilate into a new community or as a result of some feudalistic relationship, meaning that you might be no more related to other Seiferts than you are to Genghis Khan.

And of course, as you allude to at the end, a name is already pretty a weak determinant of genetic heritage, since it only keeps track of a small portion of ones lineage -- by the eighth generation back, a last name represents less than 0.4% of the people responsible for person's DNA.

4:46 PM  

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