Two of Katharina Feil's ancestors, Sophie and Betty Wolff, were artists who collaborated with Käthe Kollwitz, according to the decades-long research she conducted into her family's history under the Nazis.
Growing up in southern Germany, Katharina Feil wasn't aware of the Jewish heritage of her family. She avoided discussing the Second World War with her parents because it was a sensitive subject. She took an au pair trip to Boston in 1978 when she was 18 years old and went to hear Holocaust survivor Erich Goldhagen speak at Harvard. She had been raised in Baden-Württemberg as a youngster and had never known any Jewish survivors. She began reading everything she could about the Nazi era after the incident stirred up something in her.
The following year, when she returned home, she informed her mother that she intended to pursue a bachelor's degree in Jewish Studies. She was still unaware of what her family had gone through throughout the war at this point.
The concept didn't sit well with her mother. Feil told DW that the woman asked, "Why are you doing that?"
Her studies involved a trip to Israel, which, according to her, caused her mother a great deal of anxiety for reasons she was still unsure of.