Arriving for another quiet visit to her daughter in Israel, Esther Mudrick of Providence, Rhode Island, was in for a major surprise. A few weeks ago, 58 years after they had last seen each other in Lodz, Poland, first cousins Mudrick, 89, and Helena Sokolow Bjostek, 91, of Petah Tikva, were reunited. Their mothers were sisters Chaya and Rosa Platner of Wolomin.
The reunion was made possible by researcher Patricia Wilson of Ra'anana.
"This is truly the land of miracles," she says, stressing that Holocaust survivors should never give up hope of finding family. "Someone may be just around the corner."
Mudrick arrived on her annual visit to her daughter and son-in-law, Chaya and Shimon Bouganim, their three children and their families in Rishon Lezion. Their daughter Shlomit recently married Patricia and Nigel Wilson's son Doron. Former Londoners, the Wilsons made aliya in 1993.
Chaya Bouganim knew that Wilson's passion is genealogy and said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if, during my mother's visit, we could find relatives who might have survived?"
Wilson is rapidly becoming an expert in making connections, although she discovered genealogy only six years ago. She has had great success within her own family and has helped connect others around the world.
Chaya supplied basic family details, which her mother had only rarely mentioned. Mudrick's parents were Chaya Platner (from Luchow) and Moshe Borensztejn (from Wolomin). Her siblings were sister Gittel/Gucia and husband Gedalya Tennenbaum (perished); brother Simha/Sanjek (perished); and brother Yidel/Yulek. Mudrick's maternal aunt was Rosa Platner Sokolov, whose children were Helena and Nahum/Natick.
According to Chaya and other relatives, her mother survived in forest partisan camps, while Helena held false papers which allowed her, her husband and two children to live in Lodz. After the war, Esther went to Lodz and lived with Helena for about two years. Soon after she arrived, Helena's husband Leibl Bjostek was murdered, while the women and children hid.
In 1947, Esther married, went to Germany (staying in several DP camps) and from there to the US. She hadn't heard from Helena and presumed the worst.
Wilson went to work. Consulting Yad Vashem's online Pages of Testimony, she discovered a 1956 page submitted in Israel by Helena Sokolow Bjostek, daughter of Rosa Platner (Mudrick's aunt) and Moshe Sokolov. Wilson discovered that Helena had also submitted other Platner pages.
"This had to be the connection," recalled Wilson, undaunted at trying to find someone from 1956. Accessing the online white pages of Israeli phone company Bezeq, she copied the Hebrew spelling from the record and called each of the four listings that appeared. None were relatives.
She looked again and saw another listing, spelled slightly differently, just above the others - and the given name was Helena.
"Trembling, I called," Wilson said, and the woman confirmed that she had submitted the forms.
In a chain reaction, Wilson called Chaya, who called Helena. The family held a three-way conference call that evening and gathered together soon after.
At the reunion, it was revealed that Helena had written to Esther in Germany, but the letters had been returned as undeliverable. Helena had no idea where Esther was and, in 1949, Helena and her children, Pnina and Yossi, left for Israel.
"It was always my dream to find relatives, but to have this coincidence happen with the help of my new in-laws is simply amazing," says Chaya, named for her grandmother. And, for the first time, she relates, "I saw my mother very affectionate, hugging and kissing. I had never seen that before."
But the story doesn't end there.
Not only had Helena survived, but her brother Natik (Nahum), 87, arrived in Israel in 1957 and lives only a block from his sister. Their younger sister Genya (Esther) lives in Poland.
At the first meeting, Natik was the first to come forward.
"They didn't need to speak, just hugged and kissed," said Chaya. Also, their uncle Yidel (Yulek) had survived and married in Germany. His daughters now live in Israel.
The family has given Wilson more assignments. They've asked her to find out about the fate of the women's aunt, Rushka Platner Hochman of Warsaw, and her children Yidel and Simha/Sanjek, as well as Helena's brother Benjamin Sokolov, who owned Gordon & Platner Agricultural Machinery on Savalna Street in Vilna. He had two daughters and two sons - Yulek, "a well-known sportsman," and the other "a blind, talented cellist."
Wilson has helped numerous people connect with their families and is happy to try to assist others, no matter where they are.
"There are no guarantees," she says. "I feel as though this is a calling, but I can only try my best."
Wilson is a member of the Ra'anana branch of the Jewish Family Research Association (JFRA Israel), one of three Jewish genealogical societies in Israel.
To contact her, e-mail email@example.com
Fixing the broken chain
For 50 years, Yad Vashem's goal has been to recover the names of six million Jews who perished. More than three million are memorialized in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names.
Each individual deserves a memorial, although most received no burial. To commemorate and bear witness to these individuals, Pages of Testimony were created to register the victims. Each page is completed by friends or relatives of victims, generally survivors or descendants. When available, photographs are included.
Stored in the Hall of Names in Jerusalem, the pages are also accessible through the Online Database from anywhere in the world. Searchers can see already submitted names, add new names, correct details or add photographs.
In a race against time, and because millions of victims remain unidentified, Yad Vashem has organized a special project to get the word out. The Names Recovery Campaign hopes to organize grassroots activity to enable aging survivors to share their memories now and assist survivors, their families and others to complete and submit the Pages.
International researchers can check their own family histories, learn new details, submit names, photos and documents online, and - as in the case of cousins Esther and Helena - perhaps find relatives who survived against all odds.
Yad Vashem chair Avner Shalev writes, "Together, we convert our collective memory into individual commemoration, and through identifying the individuals we may then reflect on our collective loss. In doing so, we piece back together the broken chain that connects us with the past and shape our identity for the future."
Relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors and witnesses of a victim's death may submit Pages.
Individuals to be included can be:
* Jews killed by the Nazis or collaborators during the Holocaust or in the months following the camps' liberation
* Jews who fought in the Russian Red
Army against Germany and were imprisoned or disappeared (Jewish soldiers caught by the Nazis and identified as Jews were shot on the spot)
* Jewish refugees from western Poland who fled east to the Soviet Union in 1939 and did not become Soviet citizens
* Jews from Hungarian labor units captured by Russians and sent to labor camps north of the Ural Mountains and Siberia
* Jews from North Africa (Tunisia, Libya) and Iraq (Baghdad pogrom) murdered as a result of Nazi occupation or local collaboration.
For more information or to search the database, go to www.yadvashem.org