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Family Secret

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Drusilla1S | 14:45 Wed 05th Apr 2006 | Body & Soul
10 Answers

My beloved grandmother died recently and I have only just been told of her family secret. She was cousin to the wife of a war criminal who was convicted, though not executed, for murdering allied prisoners of war in France during WWII.

She was so supportive of me during my recent health scare and I thought we had grown very close. Although, I can understand her unwillingness to share this information with friends and neighbours, I am upset she felt unable to confide in me.

I wouldn't go as far to say I feel betrayed, but am concerned she doubted my trustworthiness. Am I overreacting or are my thoughts still confused by my grief?



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First of all I offer my deepest sympathy ~ losing a beloved relative is hard, I know :o(

As I can look from the outside, I very much doubt that she thought you untrustworthy ~ she was probably keeping it to herself because she may have felt the secret was a reflection on's an horrific thing to have to deal with & maybe she thought that by sparing you the truth about her family history you wouldn't have to deal with the pain she may have done?

Yes, you may feel this way because of your grief but also you may have to try and understand that your grandmothers generation were more than likely brought up to keep secrets ~ secrets that by todays standards really aren't that big a deal..although I am in no way implying this secret wasn't a big deal I am sure you know where I am coming from, Drusilla!

My mother has been researching her family tree & just discovered her grandmother had an illegitimate son ~ it has thrown her into turmoil mainly because she feels that her granny had to keep it to herself & had no support. This is just an example, but all I can see from your story is your grandmother trying her hardest to protect your feelings..hope this helps just a little.

The thought of sharing it with you, or even hiding it from you probably had never entered her head. Perhaps it is something - presumably from the 40's & 50's - that was so long ago she just wished it to be forgotten like she may have herself. Maybe she just didn't want to tell you full stop.

I agree with the other posts Drusilla: It was probably nothing personal. It was something vaguely shameful (though it mightn't seem that way any longer) that she most likely didn't want to tell anyone.

You certainly shouldn't feel betrayed; we all have our secrets and who, if anyone, we share them with is entirely our own affair. Would you ever have said to her: 'If you don't tell me everything about your life, I'll know you don't trust me?' Of course not. We have no right to the secrets of others, and we can't criticise them for not for confiding in us; the choice is wholly theirs.

My sincerest condolences Drusilla. Pippa68 has said it all. x

I am very sorry at your loss, i'm sure your emotions must be all over the place at the moment but i really don't think not disclosing this info is any reflection on you rather it showed that your gran had moved on, I'm sure she wasn't even thinking about it anymore - its not the sort of thing to pop up in conversation - and i can't see how she could feel any guilt or shame from you knowing what a quite removed distant relative did many decades ago.

Think of the good things about your gran and if you can put this out of your mind until you feel stronger, all the best undercovers

I would say that people of your gran's generation were not given to discuss things,the way that we do nowadays.If there was a family issue,it would just never be talked about. It's nothing personal in my opinion,at all.I'm sorry that this has added to your grief drusilla,but I can understand that you are upset.Try and not let it get out of proportion,and affect your memories of your gran.xx
Significantly, to me at least, (by the way, sincerest condolences) you haven't said who told you of this 'secret'. I think that it speaks volumes about your grandmother's view of this subject. It most likely didn't have the importance to her that it does to you or your informant. In fact, referencing my relationship with my grandfather, I would say she probably didn't even think about it. Since it lacked any meaning it disappeared in the mists of time.
Another thought... with no criticism intended, don't you find it somewaht incongrous that, upon learning of this 'secret' you find a need to seek advice on it in a public forum such as this? If your grandmother, did indeed, not trust you to maintain the skeleton in her closet, you've probably, by your action, confirmed her suspicions. Again, please understand, none of this should be considered any kind of critique... but there just might be an alternate view...
Dear Drusilla, I am very sorry you are experiencing a loss at this time. I think that by the very fact that we are members of AB shows that we probably like to process thoughts and seek solutions to problems or issues through sharing more than other individuals. I think it is a lynch pin of the human condition to accept facts, adapt to situations, and then overcome and move forward with our lives. I think that this is something that your Grandmother did decades ago .... I do not believe she was deliberately exclusive about this ,rather that what happened in the past (by association) was something that she had dealt with and did not loom large in her relationship with yourself. I say this a someone whos family ( by marriage ) had a very difficult time just surviving through WW 2. We had people on all sides. They had very little choice in the matter. As a family the older generations found peace among themselves and it was not really talked about after their first big meet up after the war.They were very different times and people needed to move on. Please , please do not let this taint your memory of your relationship with your Grandma.
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Thank you all for your answers. Your comments have helped me realise my grandmother had probably put matters behind her and though the discoveries may seem new and startling to me, I expect she had woven them into the fabric of her life long ago.

For Clanad: My aunt told her mother's story after my brother asked why grandma had never discussed her war experiences in Germany. It was interesting to hear about Berlin at the end of the war and how my grandparents met, married in secret and eventually returned to England. I hadn't known of her first marriage to a German soldier, nor how her son from this marriage had died during the fall of the city. We saw photos from this period for the first time and there are now so many questions that can never be answered and I think that is sad. As for mentioning these matters on AB, as a non religious person, where better to make my secret, anonymous confession regarding my somewhat selfish feelings in this matter.

To understand how older people behave I think we have to look back and see what the social pressures were at the time, and in your grandmother's case it was very much an attitude of keeping quiet about the more shameful episodes which happned in family life. Also, children were little individuals who were to be seen and not heard. I suspect that there wasa part of your grandmother which still regarded you as a child and it wasn't that she didn't trust you, simply that she felt very ashamed (guilt by being associated with this episode) and by keeping silent she was able to keep her self esteem and her public image intact. I'm sure she also valued your love and affection and possibly was wrongly scared that you might have been judgmental because of what happened. It may even be that at the time it occurred she suffered from some public humiliation because of it and was determined to bury her secret as far as possible to prevent it happening again. Life is so much more open now. We all have less hang-ups and consequently forget that for earlier generations, social life and attitudes were very different.

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