survivors march 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Jewish genealogy has become something of an obsession among Jews who lost relatives in the Holocaust or who do not know whether their relatives survived. Thanks to an Israel-based radio program, however, their chances of obtaining that precious information have greatly improved.
Yaron Enosh conducts a daily program called Hamador L'hipus Krovim (Searching for Dear Ones) on Israel Radio at 16:50 in which listeners seek to find data about missing relatives or about relatives or friends with whom they have lost contact. He has been inundated with so many requests that he is setting up a nonprofit organization dedicated to tracing Jewish individuals and families.
This past week, Italian-born Nobel Prize laureate Mario Capecchi discovered that he might have a sibling living in Austria.
Marlene Ramberg Bonelli, 68, was taken in by an Italian family in the early years of the war when her mother was deported to Dachau in 1941. Her elder brother, Capecchi, was sent to another family, but the money his mother had provided for his upkeep ran out and the family turned him out to the street. He wandered homeless for nearly four years, sometimes living briefly in orphanages.
After the war, his mother returned and found him after an intensive search. She never reclaimed her daughter, and according to reports Capecchi said his mother never told him he had a sister. But Bonelli maintained contacts with other relatives in Europe, and after Capecchi's award was announced, one of them called her and asked whether she had seen him on television and whether she had detected anything familiar about him. The relative then informed her that Capecchi was her brother. Neither Capecchi nor Bonelli are discounting the possibility, and are looking forward to meeting each other.
Some of the participants in the 19th annual World Conference of Child Holocaust Survivors currently taking place in Jerusalem are hoping for a similar miracle. They will be devoting some time during the conference to searching for lost relatives, a task addressed regularly by Enosh's program.
It was initiated in the early 1950s by the Jewish Agency, which had extensive records about Holocaust survivors who came to Israel and who were looking for relatives who either came here before the war, had escaped during the war, or who were also survivors of Nazi inhumanity.
Every day for several years an announcer would read names of missing people or the names of people who were looking for relatives. But successes were few, says Enosh, because the announcers could not pronounce many of the European names and distorted them to the extent that they were unrecognizable.
However there was a wonderful resource at the Jewish Agency, Batya Untershatz, who for many years was the director of the Agency's Bureau for Missing Relatives and who took her work very seriously.
During his stint as chairman of the Jerusalem Journalists Association, Enosh had so many hassles with the management of the Israel Broadcasting Authority that he quit Israel Radio, and the program remained off the air for two years. But it was nagging at him that there were so many desperate people making a last bid to find someone who had disappeared in Europe. So he returned to Israel Radio as a freelancer and began broadcasting the program again.
Additional incentive came after his daughter came home from school and said she was doing a "roots" project and wanted information from her parents. Enosh's wife, who comes from Italian background, had all the necessary knowledge about her side of the family at her fingertips. Enosh, who comes from Polish background, knew nothing, and suddenly it became important for him to help his daughter.
His father had died, and the only person who could really help was his mother who was born in a northern Polish village and who, for reasons best known to herself, would not provide any information. Even though he remains frustrated regarding his own family, he realized the significance of helping others. So he reinaugurated the program and asked people to send in requests. Within three days, there were 2,000 requests. He was dumbfounded.
Now the requests have dwindled slightly to between 200-300 per day, but he cannot deal with them to the extent that he would like because he has insufficient manpower and the IBA will not allow him to use a team of volunteers. On top of that, the maximum number of requests that he can broadcast on any given day is seven.
Once the demand for information started growing again, it inspired him to set up a nonprofit organization that will also enable him to publicize names of missing persons and those who are looking for them on the Internet and on television.
He is also in touch with genealogical associations and search bureaus worldwide - both Jewish and non-Jewish - and aims to set up a central voluntary search bureau in Israel using all the archive material of the Jewish Agency.
By having a nonprofit organization, Enosh can also make use of volunteer research teams. He also hopes to involve schools and will put the idea to the Education Ministry after its problems with the teachers are resolved.
Although there are more failures than successes in the search process, every success is a major triumph. Sixty percent of requests are Holocaust-related, while 10% involve searches for Israelis who were here from the end of the 19th century to the establishment of the state. Out of 12 requests related to the War of Independence, he was able to trace five people. The remaining 30% of requests come from abroad from people who lost contact with their families in Israel 30 or 40 years ago and now want to track them down.
Anyone who wants to contact Enosh can get in touch with him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or through a telemessage service at (052) 999-0006.