Dad and I climb off the tram and land in a puddle. I am hunched under a creaking, insubstantial umbrella. Dad keeps the hood of his raincoat up. It is an hour before we are due at dinner and we are wandering through a quiet Amsterdam neighborhood looking for Hans Hedeman-Kalker’s house.
I am there to hold the umbrella while my dad stands on the sidewalk and consults damp Google Maps printouts, old school. He planned our days in the Netherlands around nine such printouts. He did his research back in Kansas, ordering the chaos of barely-familiar names.
By the time we find the house, the rain has subsided and a hush has fallen over this corner of the city. Amsterdam, under rain and far from tourist coffee shops, is as sweet smelling as a city can be. Jacob Obrecht Straat is a brick-lined street with brick houses and dripping shade trees. The buildings are all art deco right angles, pristine façades with white trim. Number 53, when we approach it, is just like the rest.
We stand in front of it in silence for a few seconds. We don’t ring the doorbell or knock. Hans Hedeman-Kalker doesn’t live there anymore. She hasn’t lived there, or anywhere, since 1942 when she was taken from her home and sent off to Auschwitz to be killed.
“Should we take a picture?” Dad asks.
“Would that be weird?”
We stand a little longer.
We’re not on the kind of pilgrimage that ends at a wall or a well or a shrine. Until relatively recently, we hadn’t heard of most of the stops on our journey. We aren’t even sure if these Hedemans are related to us. But I have quit my job in Chicago and I am home for the summer, and my belongings are sitting in the basement of my parents’ house awaiting a move to Columbus in the fall, and when will I be able to do something like this again: drop everything and leave with my dad?
“I’m going to take a picture,” says Dad.
I hold up a piece of paper with Hans Hedeman-Kalker’s name written on it. It serves at first as a practical marker; when we get back home and we’re showing the pictures to Mom, we’ll be able to tell her who lived where without consulting one of Dad’s many notecards. With time these sheets of paper transform into something different, some well-meaning, incomplete digital memorial.
But this is the first picture, and I feel uncomfortable, unexpectedly teary and a little silly, standing there with my rain-spattered half sheet. Maybe it’s the weather, or the silence, or the weight of our project beginning to sink in. I wonder whether we are memorializing these Hedemans for selfish reasons. We’re German, they were Dutch. Our Hedemans were Protestant, the Dutch Hedemans were Jewish. In Germany, our name ended with an extra “n.” In the Netherlands, it’s been Hedeman all along.
We didn’t expect to be stopped in our tracks like this. Behind the camera, I can see that Dad, too, is moved. He’s gone bright red. His jaw is working. We don’t share a name with our ancestors. We share a name with Hans Hedeman-Kalker, and the others on Dad’s list. We are going to visit every single place on the list and repeat these motions because maybe no one else is.
A car horn sounds on a nearby street and jolts us both into action. I notice it has begun to rain again and I unfurl my umbrella. “It’s a beautiful street,” says Dad, and we leave it.
Over dinner, I ask Dad to tell the story again, the story that explains how we got the idea to come to the Netherlands on the trail of the Dutch Hedemans. The story has its limitations. It doesn’t fully explain what we’re doing here, or how to begin to understand our need.
“I was in Berlin,” he begins.
Envision him: my dad, grey-haired, tall, and slouching, loud talker and fast walker, walking fast all over Berlin, a place he hasn’t visited since before the wall fell. He is there to visit a friend and has a few hours to himself, so he traces the wall’s foundations, marvels at a seamless unification, and eventually wanders his way into the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Underground, in the information center, he finds a row of monitors where visitors may search for victims’ names. Curious, he types in the name Hedemann and is unsurprised when the search yields no results. It is a weekday and the museum is deserted with no one else waiting for a turn, so Dad makes another search. On a whim, he types in Hedeman.
The names come immediately. They cover the screen.
Alfred Hedeman, Born 19 Nov 1877, Lived Almelo, Netherlands, Died 15 Mar 1945 Midden-Europa. Debora Julia Hedeman, Born 8 Aug 1901, Lived Ootmarsum, Netherlands, Died 9 Apr 1943 Sobibor. Hanme Hedeman, Born 3 Jun 1920, Lived The Hague, Netherlands, Died 31 Jul 1944 Auschwitz. Hartog Hedeman, Born 26 Apr 1866, Lived Ootmarsum, Netherlands, Died 26 Mar 1943 Sobibor. Hugo Hedeman, Born 18 Oct 1891, Lived Almelo, Netherlands, Died 12 Oct 1944 Auschwitz. Johan Herman Hedeman, Born 20 Mar 1896, Lived Zwolle, Netherlands, Died 30 Apr 1943 Sobibor. Joost Hedeman, Born 26 Oct 1917, Lived Enschede, Netherlands, Died 28 Sep 1942 Monowitz. Julia Estella Hedeman, Born 18 Jun 1925, Lived Rotterdam, Netherlands, Died 30 Sep 1942 Auschwitz. Sophie Celine Hedeman, Born 20 Jul 1920, Lived Enschede, Netherlands, Died 12 Oct 1944 Auschwitz. Hans Hedeman-Kalker, Born 20 Mar 1918, Lived Amsterdam, Netherlands, Died 28 Sep 1942 Auschwitz. Johanna Hedeman-Rosendaal, Born 1 May 1891, Lived Enschede, Netherlands, Died 12 Oct 1944 Auschwitz. Selma Hedeman-Stofkooper, Born 17 Sep 1894, Lived Enschede, Netherlands, Died 7 May 1943 Sobibor. Bertha Hedeman-Zilversmit, Born 2 Mar 1862, Lived Hengelo, Netherlands, Died 9 Apr 1943 Sobibor.
Dad stares at the monitor. There is his own name, John, Johan in Dutch. There is someone with his niece’s name, Julia. And there is his own precious, unusual last name, confounder of German teachers the world over: “What does Hedeman mean?” we ask them. “I don’t know,” they reply. “Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.”
At dinner, in Amsterdam, Dad takes a sip of his beer. “This felt completely different from finding out about that rodeo rider, Tuff Hedeman. That was cool. This was something else. I’m not sure if I still feel this way, but standing at that monitor I kept thinking, ‘We’re related. We have to be related.’”
My thinking vacillates more or less on the hour. I wasn’t in Berlin. The only list of names I’ve seen is the list my dad made, and I first came face to face with it not in a cold and underground memorial but in the fluorescent glare of my cubicle in Chicago, a Jimmy Johns sandwich halfway to my mouth. I got chills, but they were chills of interest, of a project sighted.
I want us to be related, and that wanting troubles me. We are laying claim to dead strangers. It is a peculiar kind of wishful thinking, to wish oneself related to the violently murdered, and sitting opposite Dad in an Amsterdam restaurant, I try to believe I’m here for any reason beyond the story I’ll be able to tell when I get home.
Other people do genealogy. Ruth Hedeman combed over immigration documents and shipboard manifests, birth certificates and death certificates and marriage certificates. She was my great grandfather’s niece, and she kept everything in a file, and the file sat in Baltimore until some other, later Hedeman photocopied the contents and shared a version with families of Hedemans across the country.
This was not a burdensome task. Our family, my family, the John-and-Anne D.-and Jackie Hedeman family, is the only family of Hedemans to live more than twenty miles from the Inner Harbor. Marooned (or so the rest of the Hedemans would have it) in the middle of the country, we are anomalies. Hedemans are drawn to water, despite the fact that they (we) are long and uncoordinated and prone to seasickness. Hedemans are drawn to boardwalks and seafood and bottle cap poker chips. They are drawn downy oshun even when they live close enough to smell the salt over the beltway. Their skin burns before it tans and they retreat for afternoon naps and televised baseball. They love the Orioles. They love each other.
According to Ruth Hedeman’s research, we are who we are because Hermann Heinrich Hedemann, formerly of Badbergen, Germany, stepped off the boat in Baltimore and changed his name to Henry Hedeman. Henry left Badbergen in the early 1820s. Hedemanns who stayed in Germany would have fought in the Austro-Prussian War, in the Franco-Prussian War, in World War I, and in World War II. In Baltimore, my grandfather, born in 1901, was too young for the First World War and too old for the second. In Germany, a Hedeman his age, with some small portion of his eventual genetic makeup, might have taken part in both. Because Henry left Germany, the Hedemans—my Hedemans, the Hedemans who show in my face and my attitude and my disproportionately tiny wrists—were spared participation in a traumatic war, or two, or four, but they (we) were also spared complicity in the deaths of the Dutch Hedemans who share our name.
But they (we) also arrived in Maryland, a slave-holding state, and while Ruth Hedeman’s genealogical research is silent on the subject of what Henry Hedeman’s family got up to in the years leading up to the Civil War, I think I would have heard if they were abolitionists. I know that Henry Hedeman died in 1843, and was buried in the German cemetery, which was bulldozed thirty years later to make room for Johns Hopkins Hospital. One hundred years after Henry Hedeman was buried, Johns Hopkins was where first my uncle, and then my dad, was born.
A word about Hedeman Luck. I think we were the first to put a name to the phenomenon, “we” being John-and-Anne D.-and-Jackie, a unit which, definitely to outsiders and sometimes even to ourselves, appears to be the perfect distillation of Hedeman Luck.
Hedeman Luck might not actually be luck. Or it might not always be luck. Hedeman Luck provides us with parking spaces near the front, with deals on prom dresses, with fascinating conversation partners, with all the trappings of right-place-right-time. Hedeman Luck has also been extended to explain the sequence of events by which my parents—both scholarship kids, my mother in the second co-educated class and not yet even a Hedeman—managed to find each other within a week of being on the same college campus. Although there, on that campus, or maybe before arriving there, Hedeman Luck starts to look like Hedeman Privilege. Certainly by the time I arrived on that same college campus thirty-three years after my parents left it, luck played an increasingly insignificant role in getting me there. Yet that is what we continue to call it, the process-or-phenomenon by which things go well for us.
Luck: that washing of hands.
Let’s say it was Hedeman Luck that propelled Henry Hedeman out of Badbergen, onto the boat in Germany, and off the boat again in Baltimore. Ridiculous, perhaps, a stretch, but Hedeman Luck is an easier sell than gauzy fate. Hedeman Luck is the reason why, when Dad and I drive to Badbergen, Germany, and immediately find the Word War I Memorial, we can stand beside it and examine it and not find a single name we recognize.
This side trip to Badbergen is a journey of confirmation. We don’t want to read Hedemann on the memorial, and we don’t expect to, and standing in the rain, examining a standing, stone soldier, I am forced to admit the truth to myself. I want to be related to the Dutch Hedemans, it is to further let my family off the hook. “Look,” I could say, “I know we landed in a slave state, and I know we got along and had intact families and moved to the suburbs and dabbled in the Ivy League and survived, but…” But that sentence is unfinishable, an offensive tally-sheet of wrongs and rights. Long-dead relatives, far-removed, do nothing to change the hash marks accumulated during a happy childhood and a serene adolescence and a burgeoning successful adulthood, and attempting to claim Hans Hedeman-Kalker to offset my own good fortune does violence to her memory. Better to admit to Hedeman Luck, and use it for something other than parking spaces. Better to stop spinning my wheels.
We travel to the Netherlands in search of strange Hedemans, but Badbergen is where we spend our last day, across the German border and a short drive from where we have been staying. We drive to Badbergen in our red, rented Fiat 500 and I am sneezing, fully stuffed up, run down after days of searching. Nonetheless, I am still in charge of navigation, so I unwrap a cough drop and unfold the roadmap.
The Dutch Hedemans, those who never made it to Amsterdam or the Hague, clustered in the eastern part of the country, so the placement of Badbergen could be another stroke of Hedeman Luck, or it could be a piece of the shared name puzzle, or it could be both. The Hedemans and the Hedemanns lived in such close proximity that radio stations on both sides of the border overlap frequencies in bursts of Dutch-German static.
The map I hold in my lap during the drive to Badbergen is the only the beginning of proof, but I examine it as if examining could bring the towns even closer together, bring our pilgrimage into sharper focus. Looking at the map, for the first time I feel comfortable voicing the possibility that at one point, perhaps a long, long, long time ago, we may have been the same family.
I say as much to Dad. “It’s just so close. That can’t be a coincidence.”
“Geography is destiny,” he says. Maybe it’s supposed to be a reply. Maybe it’s just something that’s been rolling around in his head.
We have been to Johann Herman Hedeman’s apartment building in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium. We have been to the site of Hartog Hedeman’s last address, now an industrial high-rise decorated with Chinese characters in the Hague. Also in the Hague, we stopped and saw Hannie Hedeman’s home on a quiet street overlooking a shaded park. In Ootmarsum, a tiny, beautiful town full of British tourists, we located the place where Rosetta Rijna Godshalk-Hedeman used to live. In Almelo, we took pictures in Hedemanplein, a square named after Hugo Hedeman, a textile merchant. In Enshede, we lingered outside Hugo, Johanna, Sophie, and Joost Hedeman’s house. Sophie was my age when she was murdered. Now the church next door uses their house for community outreach. On a commercial strip not far away, we glanced up at the second floor apartment of Selma Hedeman-Stofkooper. In Oldenzaal, we found where Bertha Hedeman-Zilversmit lived with her daughter, Debora Julia Hedeman. In Oldenzaal’s City Hall, which sits on the site of a long-gone synagogue, we read Bertha and Debora’s names on a plaque commemorating the town’s murdered Jews. It is the only such plaque we found.
We have no addresses for Badbergen, so our first stop is the Protestant church. That is where we find the World War I memorial, and the slightly smaller World War II memorial, hidden away in a corner of the church’s graveyard. We read the memorials, and find nothing. It is raining again, and I am clutching a wet tissue, and for the first time on this trip I want to go home. We’ve seen the town, I think to myself. The Hedemanns left. That’s the whole point. There’s nothing to see. Those other places, those actual addresses, those views are where our project had meaning, not here in a muddy graveyard in an empty town.
But Dad has begun to walk up and down the rows of graves and so I join him. We are looking for pre-1820s headstones, but it seems pretty clear to me that the majority of these graves are from the latter half of the twentieth century. If there are older graves, they are unmarked, or they are somewhere else, maybe moved like Henry Hedeman’s had been moved to make way for Johns Hopkins. Maybe, like him, the long-ago German Hedemanns rested under unmarked turf, undisturbed and unaware of everything going on above them. Still, we continue up and down the rows, in my case now mostly on autopilot, and we have covered almost the entire graveyard when Dad shouts.
And there it is, a shiny, marble headstone, apparently new but without a date. The branches of a holly bush obscure the words until Dad pulls them back. “Familie Hedemann,” it reads. “Hilda Vehslage. Ursula Christl.” There are no other names, and no other graves.
Back in the Netherlands, in the hush of the darkened Oldenzaal City Hall lobby and on the bold, blue Hedemanplein street sign in Almelo, we saw our name, Hedeman, no second N, and we feel abstract sadness, imprecise connection, blanket curiosity. Here, in Badbergen, there are Hedemanns buried under the ground we stand on. They are our relatives. Their ancestors stayed when ours left. They weathered those things we congratulate ourselves on having dodged. And, even if they risked best-case acts of disobedience, or muttered behind closed doors, they still sat across the border as Hedeman after Dutch Hedeman was taken from their home and killed.
“Somebody stayed,” I said, my cold and my wet Kleenex and my frustration forgotten.
“Yeah,” said Dad. “Look. We found them.”
There is a piece of the family history where Hedeman Luck either fails, or proves itself.
When Dad was seven years old, his father, who was spared both world wars, died of a brain aneurysm while sitting downstairs and watching Wagon Train. For weeks, Dad kept catching glimpses of him coming home from work down the alley, only to have the vision resolve itself into a different person, a younger man, a neighbor woman. My uncle, admitted to Wharton, turned Penn down and settled on the University of Baltimore, which kept him close to home and, to hear everyone but him tell it, abbreviated his potential. My grandmother, a nurse, worked around the clock to keep life running: Christmas, Easter, trips downy oshun.
When Dad was in junior high, my grandmother asked him to apply for a scholarship to McDonogh, one of Baltimore’s premiere boarding schools. Dad didn’t want to trade his home “steps from Memorial Stadium” for a dorm full of entitled suburbanites, but my grandmother played on his vanity. “I bet you can’t pass the entrance exam,” she said. “I dare you to try.” He passed. He was accepted. He went to McDonogh, where he made the kind of connections and got the kind of education that, in 1968, was what got you into Princeton. He went to Princeton. In his junior year, my mom arrived on campus.
When Dad was drafted to serve in Vietnam, one of his McDonogh connections got him into the National Guard, and another Hedeman was spared another war. Mom and Dad got married. Years later—years enough to allow for a dissertation and a professorship and two new jobs—I was born, healthy and right on time.
And on and on and on. Hedeman Luck admits tragedy. Hedeman Luck does not preclude choice, or the shaping of a story, but it acknowledges those forked-road moments, when events could have gone one way and instead turned toward the sun. My uncle, who stayed in Baltimore, lost Wharton but he gained a family and he kept crabs with Old Bay and the taste of the sea. My dad, who left Baltimore, returns and his accent is gone but he still knows every street. Even I visit Baltimore and am reminded just how much the city feels right, familiar.
But Baltimore is a secondhand home, and Germany is just another country, and I am where I am, and who I am, because of the ones who left. My life admits what they did and didn’t have to do to get me here.
We drive away from Badbergen, stopping once we pass back into the Netherlands to take a picture of a windmill. From the parking lot, where our Fiat is the only car, we climb the hill to the windmill under a new wave of misty rain. I am back to sneezing, and all the tea I have been drinking to combat my cold has begun to have an effect. I glance around and contemplate the merits of squatting behind one of the scrubby bushes.
“I don’t know what this adds up to,” says Dad. He isn’t talking about the windmill. “I guess in the back of my head I thought we’d come to the Netherlands and magically find something out.”
I know what he means, although I can’t quite believe either of us was ever so naïve as to think we’d be granted that moment after so little effort, that after Googling a few things and booking a plane ticket, we’d arrive to a sign telling us, “Yes, John and Jackie Hedeman, yes, this, too, is your family. And this is what it means.”
“Maybe if we did more research,” I say. “Like, genealogical research.”
The windmill rotates lackadaisically, splattering rain with each pass. A barely noticeable fog tones down the intense redness of our Fiat at the bottom of the hill. A Dutch Master could have painted the whole scene.
Dad speaks again. “Even if I found out we weren’t related to those Hedemans, I’d probably still feel the same way I felt when I first saw that list. I keep thinking about what it means to share a name.”
Dad may as well ask what it means to be a family, an equally unanswerable question, although the asking makes me realize how glad I am that I came to be here, with him.
For the two of us, here, on the top of a hill in the Netherlands, sharing a name means climbing back down to our car and driving back to our bed and breakfast. It means waking up early the next day to return the car to Amsterdam and catching a cab to the airport. It means flying back to the United States and telling my mom the story and preparing a slideshow to take with us the next time we visit Baltimore.
Look, we’ll say. Look what we saw. There, and there, and there. Hedemans lived there.