Shalom Life | November 14, 2014

After Years of Searching, Auschwitz Survivor Finally Finds His Family

Menachem Bodner lost his entire family when he was just a little boy. He is still searching for his twin brother, but recently found his first cousins in California thanks to a persistent genealogist

By: Roi Mandel

Published: November 12th, 2014 in News » World

"I searched for a woman named Berger who had married a Burstein and I found marriage documents in the databases," she recounts. "I removed all the Bergers who were not born in Hungary and was left with two Berger-Burstein couples. And then it jumped out of the page: Mary Burstein, née Berger. My heart missed a beat and I entered the document.


Marriage document

"It turned out that Mary was born in remote village in the Carpathian Mountains, which used to be in Hungary and is now in Ukraine. That's the village were Roza, Menachem's mother, was born. And Mary's father had the same name as Menachem's grandfather. There was no room for doubt – Mary is Roza's sister. I reached the Mary I was looking for."

For expert genealogists, databases are a treasure. All they have to know is how to dig through them in order to find the required information. After locating Mary, KimRon found her place of burial on the Web and even a picture of the grave itself, "with her Yiddish name on it and Mary Burstein in English." Bingo.

Suddenly the memory has a face

Mary has three daughters, and the three of them still live in the US. The database documents revealed their identity, their place of birth, where they moved to and when Mary was widowed.

At this stage, KimRon was careful not to tell Menachem about the breakthrough as she was afraid to disappoint him if it turned out she was wrong. "I stopped to drink water and relax, took a deep breath and considered whether I should tell Menachem or not. But I decided to wait."

The fear was alleviated only after a response arrived from the anonymous profile, from one of Mary's daughters in California. "Our entire family died in the Holocaust," the daughter wrote in the email. "Not your entire family," KimRon responded. "You have a relative in Israel."

KimRon updated Menachem about the dramatic chain of events. He was excited. "It was the most exciting discovery I had ever experienced," he said. "The DNA left no room for doubt."

The cousin said she had never imagined that she had relatives who survived the Holocaust. She explained that she had given the DNA sample in the past for medical needs. She said she had heard a lot about Aunt Roza, Menachem's mother, who was her mother's favorite sister. Her daughter, Mary's granddaughter, is even named after her.

Mary, it turned out, had immigrated to the US in 1920, and the sisters lost contact with each other immediately at the start of World War II. She told her daughters she had known something bad had happened when the letters she had sent Roza didn't reach their destinations and were sent back to the US.

Menachem didn't remember what his parents looked like. All he had was a vague memory of a three-year-old child who was left alone in the world. Only a mixture of images and colors removed from the house by the Gestapo.

"Do you have any pictures of Roza?" KimRon asked the cousin, who said she did. She quickly emailed a photo clearly showing Roza and Ignatz Gottesman, Menachem's parents.

The parents, who up to two weeks ago were faceless in Menachem's scarred memory, are suddenly looking at the camera. In this long journey in search of his relatives, the most exciting moment was when Menachem first receive his parents' picture. Apart from his mother's blonde hair, he couldn't remember anything. It was all erased by Auschwitz.

What happened to Jeno?

Last Sunday, at KimRon's house in the Israeli city of Hod Hasharon, Menachem Bodner chatted with his relatives in the US via video for the very first time. For about two and a half exciting hours, Bodner and KimRon got to speak to Mary's three daughters, their children and their grandchildren.

The sisters told Menachem everything they knew about his mother: That she was a professional seamstress and embroiderer, that she had survived the war but was murdered by rioters later on.

"They were sensitive and were afraid to cause him pain," KimRon said. "They didn't ask anything about the Holocaust. They wanted to know what he had done in Israel and asked him to tell them about his family."

Before concluding the conversation, they agreed to meet in the US and get to know the entire extended family. By the time the video chat had come to an end, Bodner was glowing, happy. It was another moment in the emotional rollercoaster he had experienced in the past year and a half, thanks to KimRon.

Only one thing remains open: What happened to Jeno, the twin brother. The relatives in California offered to help and promised to do everything in their power in the US to help solve the mystery.

KimRon and Bodner are particularly optimistic. They feel they have taken another step forward towards the lost brother.

In the meantime, Menachem holds onto the only memory he has of him: Lying on the bed with his eyes closed, in deep sleep. Sleeping in the bed they shared, foot by foot, until the Gestapo men knocked on the door of the house. That's the only picture of his twin brother engraved in his memory.

Reprinted with permission from Ynet News

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