At the GA, Jewish leadership project chief Anna Kolodner tried to learn more of her family's past.
By RUTH EGLASH
For Anna Kolodner, the executive director of the David Project Center for Jewish Leadership, this week's United Jewish Communities General Assembly was much more than just a series of business meetings.
The US-born daughter of two Holocaust survivors also utilized the gathering of North American Jewish leaders to delve deeper into her family's roots and clarify whether there were assets in Israel that may have belonged to her mother's first husband.
"His name was Mendel Levy," said Kolodner, who studied the effects of the Holocaust on the second generation for her doctoral thesis. "I knew he had been a successful businessman before the war, and it seems he may have invested some funds in the State of Israel during the 1930s," she added.
According to Kolodner, the Israeli Organization for the Restitution of Assets for Holocaust Victims had contacted her out of the blue to tell her it had uncovered funds or land belonging to Mendel Levy, and that she and her older brother were his only surviving relatives. The restitution body was established a year-and-a-half ago following government legislation aimed at locating descendants of Holocaust victims who had invested in Israel before the war.
"When I first heard about it I was actually very sad," said Kolodner, whose father, Burko Kolodner - her mother Riva's second husband, who passed away in 1984 - was also a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. "I really felt that I wasn't entitled to any of it, that it was only coming to me because of the terrible events of the Holocaust. It was also difficult knowing that I would benefit out of a tragedy," she said.
Kolodner said that the phone call telling her about the assets also brought back painful memories of growing up with survivor parents.
"[The Holocaust] has been part of my core identity ever since I was very small," she recalls. "My mother talked about the family she had lost very often - I think she wanted to keep their memories alive."
In fact, her mother told her so many stories about Mendel and their three daughters - Aliza, Shulamit and Sorah, all of whom perished - that when Kolodner was a child, she often thought they were still alive "but just living somewhere else."
"I even have a photo of my mother with Mendel and her first two children," says Kolodner, adding that in order to claim the assets found by the restitution organization she had to provide detailed documentation, such as her mother's marriage certificates to both her first and second husbands.
"I handed them all over to the organization at the GA," she says. "We still don't know how much money we're talking about and it could be several more weeks until we find out."
A spokesman for the restitution organization told The Jerusalem Post that the matter still required further investigation before anything could be confirmed.
Kolodner, whose mother passed away in 1993, calls herself "the keeper of family documents."
"I have collected all the materials about my family and created a family tree with all our information. Last year I went to Lithuania and found where they had lived before the war," she said. She explained how her mother, Mendel and the three girls had been sent to the Shavel Ghetto at the start of the war and how Mendel was taken away and sent to Auschwitz early on.
"The children were also taken from my mother while she was still in the ghetto," describes Kolodner. "Years later my mother spoke to the International Red Cross and found out what had happened to them and the dates they died so that she could say Kaddish for them."
"My mother lost her entire family in the Holocaust. She met my father after the war and they got married in 1948," she said.
A keen historian at heart, Kolodner says she isn't so concerned about the financial gains these surprise assets might bring but more about how the discovery of Mendel's investments in the State of Israel will add another piece to the puzzle of her own family's history.
"I really don't know what I'll do with it, but my first inclination is to perhaps use it to support Israel," she said, adding that of course part of it also belonged to her brother. "I'm still just shocked at this entire sequence of events; it's a true revelation that only adds more information to a really unbelievable story."
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