Eliahu Pietruszka believed his brother, who escaped Warsaw ghetto, had died in a Russian labor camp, but, generations later, a Yad Vashem genealogy project led to incredible news
Holocaust survivor Eliahu Pietruszka, right, embraces his nephew Alexandre Pietruszka as they meet for the first time in Kfar Saba, Israel, November 16, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
AP — Eliahu Pietruszka shuffled his 102-year-old body through the lobby of his retirement home toward a stranger he had never met and collapsed into him in a teary embrace. Then he kissed both cheeks of his visitor and in a frail, squeaky voice began blurting out greetings in Russian, a language he hadn’t spoken in decades.
Only days earlier, the Holocaust survivor who fled Poland at the beginning of World War II and thought his entire family had perished learned that a younger brother had also survived, and his brother’s son, 66-year-old Alexandre, was flying in from a remote part of Russia to see him.
The emotional meeting was made possible by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial’s comprehensive online database of Holocaust victims, a powerful genealogy tool that has reunited hundreds of long-lost relatives. But given the dwindling number of survivors and their advanced ages, Thursday’s event seemed likely to be among the last of its kind.
“It makes me so happy that at least one remnant remains from my brother, and that is his son,” said Pietruszka, tears welling in his eyes. “After so many years, I have been granted the privilege to meet him.”
Pietruszka was 24 when he fled Warsaw in 1939 as World War II erupted, heading to the Soviet Union and leaving behind his parents and twin brothers Volf and Zelig, who were nine years younger. His parents and Zelig were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto and killed in a Nazi death camp, but Volf also managed to escape. The brothers briefly corresponded before Volf was sent by the Russians to a Siberian work camp, where Pietruszka assumed he had died.
“In my heart, I thought he was no longer alive,” Pietruszka said. He married in Russia and, thinking he had no family left, migrated to Israel in 1949 to start a new one.
Then, two weeks ago, his grandson, Shakhar Smorodinsky, received an email from a cousin in Canada who was working on her family tree. She said she had uncovered a Yad Vashem page of testimony filled out in 2005 by Volf Pietruszka for his older brother Eliahu, whom he thought had died.
Holocaust survivor Eliahu Pietruszka, center right, walks with Alexandre Pietruszka and family in Kfar Saba, Israel, November 16, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
Volf, it turned out, had survived and settled in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Ural Mountains. Smorodinsky tracked down an address and reached out to discover that Volf, who had spent his life as a construction worker, had died in 2011, and that Alexandre, his only child, still lived there. After Smorodinsky arranged a brief Skype chat, Alexandre decided to come see the uncle he never knew he had.
Smorodinsky, a 47-year-old professor from Ben-Gurion University in southern Israel, invited The Associated Press to record Thursday evening’s reunion at his grandfather’s retirement home in central Israel.
Upon meeting, the two men clutched each other tightly and chatted in Russian as they examined each other’s similar facial features.
“You are a copy of your father,” said a shaking Pietruszka, who has a hearing aid and gets around in a rolling walker. “I haven’t slept in two nights waiting for you.”
Holocaust survivor Eliahu Pietruszka, center, looks at a picture with Alexandre Pietruszka and family in Kfar Saba, November 16, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
Throughout the meeting, Alexandre swallowed hard to hold back tears, repeatedly shaking his head in disbelief.
“It’s a miracle. I never thought this would happen,” Alexandre, himself a retired construction worker, kept saying.
It did, thanks to the Yad Vashem database of pages of testimony, whose goal is to gather and commemorate the names of all of the estimated six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. The Names Recovery Project has been Yad Vashem’s flagship mission in recent years. The memorial’s very name — Yad Vashem is Hebrew for “a memorial and a name” — alludes to its central mission of commemorating the dead as individuals, rather than mere numbers like the Nazis did.
It hasn’t been an easy task. The project began in 1954, but over the following half century, fewer than 3 million names were collected, mostly because the project was not widely known and many survivors refrained from reopening wounds, or clung to hopes that their relatives might still be alive.
The names collected are commemorated in the museum’s Hall of Names, a cone-shaped room, whose walls are lined with bookshelves containing folders upon folders of testimonies. Still, until 2004, more than half of the allotted folders remained empty.
That year, the database went online and provided immediate easy access to information in English, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish and German. Thanks to a high-profile campaign, and the efforts of Yad Vashem officials who have gone door-to-door to interview elderly survivors, the number has surged to 4.7 million names.
Another rewarding byproduct has been that of tech-savvy grandchildren using it to research their families, leading to emotional reunions between various degrees of relatives from around the world.
The rate of reunions has trickled significantly in recent years as elderly survivors have passed away, making each one increasingly significant, said Alexander Avram, the director of the database.
“It is not too late to fill out pages of testimony. We need to document each and every victim of the Holocaust,” he said. “But such a reunion is a very special moment because we are not going to see a lot more of them in the future.”
Debbie Berman, a Yad Vashem official at the reunion, said it was incredibly moving to be there for “the end of an era.”
“This is one of the last opportunities that we will have to witness something like this. I feel like we are kind of touching a piece of history,” she said.
For Pietruszka, a retired microbiologist and great-grandfather of 10, it was a fulfilling coda to a long, eventful life.
“I am overjoyed,” he said. “This shows it is never too late. People can always find what they are looking for if they try hard enough. I succeeded.”
Holocaust survivor Eliahu Pietruszka, right, speaks with Alexandre Pietruszka as they meet for the first time in Kfar Saba, Israel, , November 16, 2017. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
We all know that the midterm elections are different this time around. They are usually like “all politics,” namely local. But this time around they’re different. They are all presidential, all about Trump, as most everything is. And for the anti-Trump crowd — I’m talking about the political commentators and “analysts” — any and all things bad are held to be Trump’s fault. This is presumably because they believe that their condemnations of Trump will result in a Democrat takeover of the House of Representatives.
A new book explores how graffiti artists in Beirut skirt limitations on expression to share political criticism in the streets.
A photograph of the book “Drawing Lines” by Tamara Zantout, taken at the launch of the book at Beit Beirut cultural center, Beirut, Lebanon, Oct. 25, 2018.
BEIRUT — Beirut’s alleyways and streets are peppered in bright, detailed and provocative graffiti. Street artists use the medium, which exists in a legal grey area, to express their identity and give voice to political frustrations.
On Tuesday, San Francisco will become the largest city in the nation to allow noncitizens to vote, and the city has spent $310,000 on a “new registration system” specifically aimed at illegals. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the plan is the first in the state and follows Proposition N, a 2016 ballot measure allowing votes by noncitizens over the age of 18, reside in the city, and have children under age 19.
By the count of the Chronicle, only 49 noncitizens have signed up to vote on Tuesday, which works out to $6,326 for every illegal voter, but there’s more to the story. City officials are worried that voting could expose illegals to ICE, who might come looking and possibly deport somebody. So supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, a backer of Proposition N, urged the city to spend $500,000 to warn the illegals.
At first Sabbath service after massacre, shooting survivors are blessed; rabbi says to those who condemned Trump’s visit: ‘No one tells me how to welcome a guest in my own home’
On November 3, 2018, a joint communal Shabbat prayer service at Pittsburgh’s Beth Shalom Conservative synagogue following the massacre a week prior which saw 11 Jewish community members killed. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — A week after an anti-Semitic shooter massacred 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the community embraced each other in prayer on Saturday.
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.” He sees this trend creating a surge in “xenophobic populism.” Writing in Politico, Katy O’Donnell agrees: “Nationalist parties now have a toehold everywhere from Italy to Finland, raising fears the continent is backpedaling toward the kinds of policies that led to catastrophe in the first half of the 20th century.” Jewish leaders like Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association, sense “a very real threat from populist movements across Europe.”
IS EUROPE RETURNING to the horrors of the 1930s? In an assessment typical of the moment, Max Holleran writes in the New Republic that “in the past ten years, new right-wing political movements have brought together coalitions of Neo-Nazis with mainstream free-market conservatives, normalizing political ideologies that in the past rightly caused alarm.”
We’ve been told for a long time that the ceasefire is on the way. It had many names in the past, such as tahdiah, hudna, and most recently—”an arrangement.” On Friday, once again, reports started emerging that an agreement has been reached. Several hours later, southern Israel was hit with a barrage of rockets. What happened?
And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for No Human Being shall see Me and live.” — Shemot 33:20
Faith is deeper than knowledge. While scientific data is absorbed only in the brain, faith permeates all parts of the human personality. Nothing is untouched, all spiritual limbs quiver, and everything is transformed. It is thus more difficult to acquire faith than knowledge, and faith has a more radical effect on the human being.
A Catholic archbishop recently touched on an unspoken but highly subversive phenomenon: How anti-Christian forces exploit Christian teachings to empower those who seek to dismantle Christian civilization, Muslims being chief among them.
In an interview published last summer by the Italian outlet IlGionarle.it, Catholic Archbishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan said:
The King of Jordan, not some lowly clerk, announced that Jordan will not extend the currently existing leases renting two parcels of land to Israel. One is the so-called Island of Peace in the northern Naharayim area and the other located in the southern Arava, near Tzofar, an agricultural cooperative village (moshav). Jordan was entirely within its rights to decide not to renew the leases