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)
Trump hails ‘big week’ for historic move; ‘Congratulations to all,’ he tweets ahead of May 14 opening
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
‘Next time in Jerusalem,’ jubilant Barzilai yells after victory; ‘Toy’ marks Israel’s 4th win; hundreds jump in Rabin Square fountain to celebrate; PM calls her ‘best ambassador’
Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Francisco LEONG)
Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time in two decades Saturday as singer Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international song contest with women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Backed up by three dancers, her trademark side buns featuring stripes of pink dyed hair to match her pink-and-black outfit, Barzilai busted her way through “Toy” on stage in Lisbon, Portugal, punctuating her singing with her trademark eye rolls and chicken dance moves
Quoted by US president one day, hosted by Russia’s president the next, PM is on a high, including in the polls. But will this encourage his more divisive tendencies?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade marking the 73th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
JTA — On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu began his week by meeting his Cypriot and Greek counterparts to finalize the commercial export to Europe of Israeli gas that he has pushed to exploit for about a decade.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from nuclear deal with Iran was widely seen as a coup for Israel’s prime minister, a fierce opponent of the deal.
The same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel seized Iran’s archive of its military nuclear program in Tehran and spirited it to Israel, a video was posted of IDF soldiers singing Soltane Ghalbha, a traditional Persian love song – in Persian.
Taken together, the two events demonstrate the purpose of Netanyahu’s presentation.
Netanyahu’s detractors in the US and Israel called his presentation as a dog and pony show. “He didn’t tell us anything we haven’t known for years,” they sniffed.
Moreover, they insisted, Netanyahu’s presentation was actually counterproductive because he couldn’t show evidence that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal it concluded in 2015 and so did nothing to persuade the Europeans to abandon the deal.
While US policy-makers are trying desperately to stabilize Afghanistan, a shift is being orchestrated by China.
The Chinese evidently see their role in Afghanistan as the “good cop” versus the U.S. role as “bad cop.” Like Pakistan, China seems to view the Taliban as the political opposition, not as a terrorist organization, and has offered itself as an intermediary to negotiate the departure of the U.S. and, thereby, be in a position to reap the economic and geopolitical benefits of Afghanistan as a client state of the China-Pakistan alliance.
Reuters/Ipsos set a new standard this week when it condemned its own polling as unreliably favorable to the president.
“This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend,” stated a paragraph that appeared before the press release on its latest polling even began.
“Every series of polls has the occasional outlier, and in our opinion, this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.”
For the sixth Friday in a row, protestors from Gaza came to Israel’s border with intentions to penetrate it. They come with scissors to cut through the fence, with burning tires, Molotov cocktails, slingshots with rocks, and kites with firebombs attached to them to destroy Israeli farmlands and villages.
This is not some peaceful demonstration akin to Selma in the 1960s when blacks were simply trying to sit together with whites at a lunch counter. The usage of the word “demonstrators” is a misnomer; these are “rioters.”
What would happen if the world took Pope Francis’ advice (via a tweet)? “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war,” said the pontiff.
While on the surface, the disappearance of all weapons might suggest the inability to do violence, in reality, it would mean the certain annihilation of the West as a civilization.
When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land” (Vayikra 26:5).
This blessing is promised to the People of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which in turn will continue into the planting season.