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

Photo Caption: The picture from the cousin in America: Roza and Ignatz Gottesman

Photo Credit: Ynet News


Auschwitz prisoner No. A7733 has yet to find his twin brother, but his journey has already generated a family.

About a year and a half ago, Ynet published the story of Menachem Bodner, a twin survivor of the Mengele experiments, who after 70 years, thanks to a persistent genealogy researcher, discovered his real name, his place of birth and the fact that he has distant relatives living in Israel.

Recently, thanks to a DNA test and a research of his roots in the United States, he also found cousins he never knew he had, and held a video chat with them from California last week.

In addition, for the first time in his adult life, he received a picture of his parents, who were erased from his scarred memory in Auschwitz and who he had not seen since the family was sent to the camps by the Gestapo.

The journey in search of his twin brother, Jeno, prisoner No. A7734, is still going on.

The Facebook page "A7734: Looking for twin brother Jeno (Jolli), Auschwitz/Mengele survivor," which was launched in April 2013, revealed the personal story of Menachem Bodner, a resident of central Israel, who survived the Holocaust on his own although he was less than four years old when he was taken to the camp with his brother.

At the end of the war, he was adopted in Auschwitz by two Holocaust survivors who gave him their last name, but all his life he felt his twin brother had also survived. For 68 years, he did not know what had happened to the rest of his family.

Ayana KimRon, a diligent genealogist, found a message Bodner had written in a family roots forum on the Internet, and rose to the challenge. Sensitively and skillfully, she opened up his heart, and through the number on his hand and by digging into the Nazis' different archives, she managed to come up with his real name and place of birth.


Bodner and KimRon, last week, at her home in Hod Hasharon

Elias Gottesman was Menachem's real name. Jeno Gottesman was the name of his twin brother who was lost in Auschwitz. The two were born in the Mukacheve area in the Carpathian Mountains in Hungary.

Thanks to these details, KimRon located relatives in Israel who helped her find out what happened to the mother, Roza, who survived the march of death from the Flossenbürg labor camp and managed to return after the war to her hometown, where she was murdered in 1946 by anti-Semitic rioters.

But too many ends of the story remained unsolved. Slowly, through a cross-continent effort, she managed to put these ends together too.

American company offers to help

Following the publication, KimRon began receiving a lot of information via email, but nothing led to a breakthrough. And so, with no real lead, she decided to focus on the mother, Roza.

"I received a clue that the mother's sister or aunt – it wasn't entirely clear – had probably immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, years before the war," KimRon told Ynet. "All I had was a first name – Mary. I didn't know her last name and where she was located on the family tree.

"I began using my method to search all the American immigration archives and didn't really find anything. I decided to make a wise gamble: To assume that since Mary is an Anglo name which is not so common in Eastern Europe, she likely entered the US with a different first name. I put her aside and decided to let fate play the game."

And it did. Last May, KimRon received a notification of a new email. When she opened it, she found an interesting proposal from the 23andMe company, which is considered one of the three leading DNA banks in the world.

"They read the publications and offered their help," she says. "They asked Menachem to donate a DNA sample, and if the system would find any match – based on the slim chance that his twin brother had once given a DNA sample in the US – it would be their modest contribution to the project.

"Menachem provided a sample and we sent it. From that moment, each time the system finds a match, I receive an email notification. I received quite a few emails about distant levels of relation, but none of them was interesting enough and Menachem asked not to be updated on distant relations so as not to mentally burden him."

The breakthrough arrived on October 17. The headline of the message was: "We found you a new relative."

"I miss a heartbeat every time such an email arrives," KimRon explains. "I went in to check the new match. It was an anonymous profile, but the system marked it as a first cousin, and the company informed me that it was a 'definite match.' As a researcher, I doubted it.

"I sent an invitation to the anonymous profile to clarify the relation, along with a small prologue from Menachem as a Holocaust survivor who is looking for his relatives and was had no information of his identity for many years. But I got no answer. I went to the inbox every three hours, and there was nothing."

There were very few details on the anonymous profile page, but they were enough to make KimRon set her research in motion.

"I reviewed the profile again and again, saw that three countries were entered into the definitions – the US, Slovakia and Ukraine – and two last names – Berger and Burstein – and that the DNA group belongs to the mother.

"It was a dramatic match. One of the assumptions was that Berger was the mother's maiden name, and the fact that they put Slovakia and Ukraine together with the US was enough for me to conclude that I may have found a connection to Mary."

At this stage, the search focused on two American databases: Ancestry and Ellis Island.

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