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)
Nov 04, 2017 0
The UN Security Council. Photo: Twitter.
American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should serve as a “reality check” for the Palestinians, the Jewish state’s UN envoy said on Friday, ahead of the start of a special Security Council session on the issue.
“President Trump’s declaration marks a milestone — for Israel, for peace and for the world,” Ambassador Danny Danon said.
The Palestinians, Danon further noted, “can choose violence as they have always done, or they can choose to join us at the negotiating table.”
“The Security Council must send a clear message that there is never an excuse for violence,” he declared. “Violence must never be used as a threat.”
The UN agency is currently dominated by the most oppressive regimes on education and culture. There is China, which recently let writer, poet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo die an agonizing death in prison, where he was serving an 11-year jail sentence for his support of human rights and democracy.
Then there is Iran, where a dean of journalism, Siamak Pourzand, committed suicide to avoid more persecution by the regime.”UNESCO has been hijacked and abused as a tool for the persecution of Israel and the Jewish people, while concocting fake facts and fake history, meant to… rewrite global history.” — Carmel Shama Hacohen, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO.
Prague Old Town Square, Czech Republic. (Shutterstock)
In a sign of Biblical prophecy that the nations will gaze upon a unified Jerusalem with joy, and following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital Wednesday night, the Czech Republic has said that it also recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
“The Czech Republic currently, before the peace between Israel and Palestine is signed, recognizes Jerusalem to be in fact the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967,” said a statement issued by the Czech foreign ministry.
A Palestinian protester holds stones during clashes with Israeli troops as Palestinians call for a “day of rage” in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Bethlehem, West Bank, Dec. 8, 2017.
The next few days will show whether the Palestinian Authority (PA) is headed toward the kind of chaos that could result in the collapse of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ government, or whether the Palestinians will manage to contain their outrage over President Donald Trump’s announcement that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Afghan protesters shout slogans during a protest againstÊU.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in Kabul, Afghanistan December 8, 2017. (photo credit: OMAR SCOBHANI / REUTERS)
JERUSALEM – Thousands of Palestinians protested in a “day of rage” on Friday in the West Bank, Gaza and in east Jerusalem against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the ancient city as Israel’s capital.
Across the Arab and Muslim worlds, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Friday, the Muslim holy day, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians and outrage at the US move.
The real national camp—and no, I’m not referring to Likud but to the camp pursuing a Jewish, democratic and incorrupt state—has an actual chance of returning to power.
About one-third of Likud voters are presumably fed up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s way. It’s true that he’s made achievements. It’s true that the attacks on him were often vile, exaggerated hypocritical and filled with lies, mistakes, and manipulations. But no more. What could have been argued two or three or five years ago, quite rightfully, can no longer be argued today. Something has changed..
Over the last five hundred years, famous rabbinic leaders have called to limit the overwhelming authority of Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch and Rambam’s Mishne Torah. (1) They felt that these works do not reflect authentic Judaism and its halachic tradition. (2) The reason is obvious. These great codes of Jewish Law are very un-Jewish in spirit. They present Halacha in ways which oppose the heart and soul of the Talmud, and therefore of Judaism itself. They deprived Judaism of its multifaceted halachic tradition and its inherent music. It is not the works themselves which are the problem, but the ideology which they represent: The ethos of codifying and finalizing Jewish Law.
The New York Times published the Palestinian response to an alleged Saudi peace plan. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly presented it to PLO chief and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas last month.
According to the Times’ report, Mohammed told Abbas he has two months to either accept the Saudi proposal or leave office to make way for a new Palestinian leader who will accept it.
Israel is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the historic visit of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, that led to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The move by Egypt, the largest and strongest Arab state, changed the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sadat violated the Arab taboo against good neighborly relations with the Jewish state and opened the way for additional peace agreements. The defection of Egypt from the Arab military coalition eliminated the option of a two-front conventional war against Israel and saved the Israeli taxpayer billions of dollars. The heavy price paid by Israel to Egypt was total withdrawal from the Sinai and removal of settlements. But, in retrospect, it worked out well, turning Israel into “the land had peace
Islamic world more than fifty years ago, when I became fascinated by the classes taught by my Arabic teacher, the late Dov Iron, in Tel Aviv’s Zeitleen high school. From the very first class in early September 1066, I realized that we are being exposed to a culture that differs in every respect from the one upon which I was raised. I realized that the Arabic language is the key to a whole new world, one that thinks, feels and behaves in a way that must be studied perceptively in order to be understood.