An orphaned octogenarian Holocaust survivor whose parents and most of his extended family were murdered by the Nazis, has been united for the first time in his life with a blood relative, his first cousin whom he never knew existed.
Bernard Krutz and his cousin, Esti Kissilov, were brought together in an emotional meeting on Thursday afternoon in Modiin following the efforts of Bernard’s daughter, Lisa Baron, who worked to locate family members who may have survived the Holocaust.
Bernard, who doesn’t know when he was born, but is approximately 82 years old, was born in Poland and was hidden in an orphanage during the war.
His original name, Boleg Szczycki, was badly misspelled by the orphanage making it impossible for relatives to find him when the war had ended, and due to his young age, he was unable to search.
He remained in Poland after the war and eventually married there but he was forced to leave in 1968 and immigrated to the US where he settled, and has lived ever since.
In 2019, Lisa decided she wanted to try and find some relatives of her father, but because she had almost no information about her father, she opted for a DNA test in hope of finding someone.
Then, with the help of Jewish genealogical organizations and going on Bernard’s original but misspelled name, and through the Yad Vashem archives, several possible relatives were eventually identified.
It was discovered that Bernard’s aunt, his father’s sister, had also survived and in 1956 she gave testimony to Yad Vashem about the fate of her family, including Bernard’s parents and Bernard himself, whom she believed had been murdered.
After whittling down several candidates who the genealogical organizations thought could be related to Bernard, they finally came to Esti Kissilov, whom they considered to be a strong match as his cousin.
Esti agreed to take a DNA test and when that came back positive Bernard and Lisa had finally discovered that they had a close family relative living in Israel.
One problem in bringing the two cousins together was Israel’s COVID-19 travel restrictions that until this week prevented foreigners without a first-degree relative in Israel from entering the country.
Rabbi Dov Lipman and his Yad L’Olim organization worked for several weeks to obtain an exemption for Bernard on humanitarian grounds and with help from Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan, they managed to set up Thursday’s meeting.
“I wanted to find a family member very much, my father was not so enthusiastic, he didn’t want to be disappointed, but I said ‘we’re doing this, I want this, and I want it for you, I want you to know who you are, and what happened to your family,’” said Lisa.
“I never really imagined we would find such a close relative, for me it’s the culmination of 40 years of dreaming about this. My father told me his life story since I was five and I so badly wanted this for him,” she continued.
Lisa said that Bernard was incredibly moved by meeting Esti and hugged her and would not let her go after they met for the first time on Thursday.
“He’s never seen the face of a blood relative, he’s been trying to see if she looks like his parents,” she added.
Lipman said: “In the year-and-a-half that I have been helping olim, their families, and Jews around the world to gain entry into Israel, this was one of the most meaningful moments. Seeing how these two cousins met when they are in their 80’s and could not be separated from each other for hours is something I will never forget. I am also inspired by Lisa’s drive and determination to help her father find a biological relative. I am honored to have played a role in helping to make this happen.”