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Boy Gets Shock of a Lifetime When He Opens Suitcase in His Parents’ Basement and Discovers Dark Family Secret


"Rusty and black, it belonged to my maternal grandmother’s brother, ‘Uncle Dirck,’ who ‘disappeared.'"

Battalions of Nazi street fighters salute Hitler during a parade through Dortmund. Germany, 1933. (Stadtarchiv Dortmund/U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Simon Pasternak recalled the shocking moment he discovered his uncle Dirck, a relative shrouded in mystery, had fought with the Nazis during World War II. His discovery was all the more shocking, because half of Pasternak’s family is Jewish.

The Danish writer described in an op-ed in Britain’s Daily Telegraph how he uncovered the family’s dark secret.

“I found the suitcase in my parents’ basement in Copenhagen, when I was a boy in the late 70s. Rusty and black, it belonged to my maternal grandmother’s brother, ‘Uncle Dirck,’ who ‘disappeared in Ukraine during the war,’” Pasternak wrote.

Inside, Pasternak said he found “a hodge-podge of enigmatic, dust-covered documents with SS symbols, letters, an SS dagger, and an Iron Cross 2nd Class.”

Pasternak noted that his grandfather was Jewish, as is half his family, which made the Nazi paraphernalia tucked away in the house all the more puzzling.

So he approached his grandmother in search of answers.

“When I asked my grandmother about it, she said that Dirck wasn’t a Nazi, not at all, but he had been given permission by the Danish government to go to Russia and fight the Communists,” Pasternak wrote.

“When he discovered what the Nazis had done, he wanted out, but they wouldn’t let him go. The wool had been pulled over his eyes and that was all there was to say about that. Then my grandmother died and the suitcase went silent,” he wrote.

Pasternak’s mother was born in 1945, and he said that she didn’t know anything about the contents of the suitcase.

Years later, as an adult, Pasternak researched the items in the bag and discovered the Nazi connections, including “a photo from the 30s, when he was a young, promising naval officer; 1941 Waffen SS enlistment papers; an Aryan certificate; a document from the Ministry of the Navy, stating that ‘The King commends that the Lieutenant Commander be given leave until further notice’ (and could rejoin the Navy again ‘after the war.’)”

Pasternak’s investigation also revealed other documents, including: “his school report from SS School in Bavaria — top marks in Nazi ideology; his appointment as SS-Hauptsturmführer and a pile of letters sent home, written in a jaunty German revue style; and finally, a letter from Der Waffen-SS in Dänemark to my great-grandmother, exhaustively stamped and written in German as well as Danish, reporting that he ‘has been missing since August 20, 1943, at Gurinowka.’”

“[H]e had been a Nazi. My grandmother’s story wasn’t true,” Pasternak concluded.

Years later, Pasternak traveled to Riga in Latvia where his Jewish grandfather’s sister told him how, when the Germans arrived in 1941, they took 4,000 Jews to a forest, including her parents — Pasternak’s great-grandparents — and shot them dead.

Thus, Pasternak, author of the new book “Death Zones,” discovered his family included both victims of the Nazis and one who collaborated with them. His full account can be seen at the Telegraph.

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