Last Sunday, my wife and I had the long anticipated pleasure of a visit from some relatives
of mine, whom I had never met, from Israel. Nechama Padovitz is the widow of Marek, who was the son of my father’s brother. Since my father died when I was a year old, I’ve never known anyone from that side of my family, hence the anticipation. Accompanying Nechama to Stamford were her son, Amiri, his wife, and their two children.
They are all lovely people and their short visit was lovely as well, despite th deluge of rain and the crahing thunder outside. But what was most interesting was the story they brought us:
You see, I’ve always been curious as to why my Jewish heritage should have as Polish a name
as Padowicz. In Polish the name implies someone who comes from Padua, Italy, the way the name Londoner implies origins in London. Well, according to Cousin Amiri, one of our ancestors was a physician named Ezra who was indeed living in Padua. And one day Dr. Ezra was called to attend a patient named Napoleon Bonaparte.
What Napoleon’s complaint was is lost to posterity, but it seems that Ancestor Ezra did such a great job dealing with it that the emperor made him his personal physician and invited him along on his visit to Moscow.
As we all know, Napoleon had not been invited to Moscow, and he did not find himself particularly welcome there so he soon embarked on a trip home. And Grandpap Ezra, who must have known something about Russian winters that Napoleon didn’t, opted out of the trip back and stayed behind somewhere in Russia.
There he begat more Ezras until the Tzar passed an edict that all Jewish boys, except the eldest in any family, had to serve in the Tzar’s army. Life in the Tzar’s army was no bed of roses for Jewish boys since they were sent into battle ahead of their brothers-in-arms so that the enemy’s cannon would shoot their wad against them, giving those brohers-in-arms a chance to advance while the cannon were being re-loaded. This is known as “cannon fodder.”
And, as it happened, one of Dr. Ezra’s descendent's wife gave birth to two sons. So in order to protect the second one, the father registered him not as an Ezra, but under a name he made up, the totally Slavic, Padowicz. And so it turns out that I and my children are descended from Napoleon’s personal physician, a man smart enough to let Napoleon start home from Moscow without him.....unless, of course Mrs. Dr. Ezra had a secret affair with her husband's illustrious patient.