One visit to Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center opened a woman’s eyes to the family she never knew!
Margaret McMullen wasn’t expecting to discover a long-lost relative when she visited Yad Vashem in 2008. She had come to Israel to take part in the Writer’s Gathering, founded by Cindy and Gary Bayer, in hopes of finding her next story; however, what she found was more significant than she could’ve imagined.
Searching the archives for possible relatives, Margaret’s mind became full of questions when a name matched her search. Walking over to the information desk to retrieve the page she had printed off, Margaret studied the handful of facts that remained of a man she had only just met: Original Record No., Last Name, Last Name, First Name, Sex, Permanent Residence, Place during the war, Place of Death, Victim’s status end WWII, Record Content Source, Language, Related item. How could this be all that remained of this man’s life? There had to be more to uncover!
“Look at me,” The archivist at the desk said to Margaret after checking the database. “You are the first person to ask about him. Do you understand? No one has ever asked about this man, your relative, Richard. No one has called him down. No one ever printed out his name. You are responsible now. You must remember him in order to honor him.” (Where the Angels Lived, pg. 24) As the archivist handed Margaret a sheet of paper titled, Page of Testimony, fate took its hold on Margaret, refusing to let go until the assignment was complete. Unable to stop thinking about Richárd, Margaret and her family took an eleven-year voyage down a path that would lead them to places beyond any narrative Margaret had written before!
In her book, Where the Angels Lived, Margaret gives an account of the journey she went on to learn about the family she never knew existed. Written in the present tense, this memoir is unlike any other. Rather than retelling events of the past, Margaret wrote as though history was being written in front of us.
That day in the Yad Vashem archives, Margaret was given more than a piece of paper to fill out, she was given a life to remember and a legacy to continue. Who was Richárd? Who were the Engel de Jánosis’? And, was there anyone left who remembered them? The road was steep and the rabbit holes endless; but, as Margaret traveled back to her ancestor’s home in Pécs, Hungary, she would learn where they had come from and write a book that would inspire many! Her grandfather, Friedrich, tried to forget his past, but the past didn’t want to forget him.
It was a pleasure to host Margaret and her husband, Pat, in our home, last Wednesday! Hearing Margaret read the first chapter of this book and tell us more about what they went through during their investigating, made my respect towards her grow tremendously. Inspired to learn my own family’s heritage, Where the Angels Lived has sparked a fire in me that I hope will also ignite in other people’s hearts as well. There are thousands of people still unaccounted for in the archives at Yad Vashem, one of them could be your relative. It’s time we remember the lives that have been lost in order to continue to share their stories and keep their memories alive.
As a fan of historical fiction (specifically, WWII), this book ticked all the boxes and is a story I will not forget. It’s amazing how the past can direct our future, and in Margaret’s case, it all began with a fictional book she wrote about her mother called, In My Mother’s House, and a name in the Yad Vashem archives, that changed the way her future was shaped! Where the Angels Lived brings together a true story of hope, family, loss, heartache, and redemption. I highly recommend that you read this book, and I believe this story is going to continue to take Margaret to places she’d never imagined she’d go! As Bernard Cornwall writes, “Fate is inexorable.”