It’s been twelve years since my grandmother and her brother were reunited after a separation of sixty-eight years. The circumstances of their long estrangement are all too familiar. They had both survived the Nazi Holocaust, and had met dismal failure in their attempt to locate survivors at the end of the war. So when they finally found each other in the summer of 1994, their heartfelt reunion was filled with many memories of a distant past and sixty-eight years of blood, tears and toil in their attempts to create new lives on opposite ends of an ocean.

Meir's train was re-routed to Auschwitz

My grandmother Sima and her brother Meir were young adults at the time of Hitler’s rise to power. Meir had gotten married to a lovely girl from his town and moved to Belgium. He was employed as a coal miner which, although laborious, provided a modest income for his small family. My grandmother was also newly married to Mordechai and living in her Polish hometown of Szeratz where she sewed trousseaus for young brides and worked as a nanny. Once the war broke out, communication between Meir and the rest of the family was rendered impossible. From that point on, all contact ceased.

My grandmother ran to Russia with her husband where she was subjected to a labor camp as a result of refusing Russian citizenship. She was forced to cut down frozen trees with a blunt ax for days on end in the midst of bitter winters and suffocating summers. At some point during her imprisonment, she received news of the deaths of her, and her husband’s, family. Mordechai sought to avenge the murders of his beloved relatives and joined the Russian army for an opportunity to battle the advancing Germans. He was killed near Warsaw shortly after, may G‑d avenge his blood. Had he known his wife, Sima, was pregnant at the time, I can only wonder if he would’ve left. Esther was born in Siberia and spent her first few years of life in a barrack, sleeping in a suitcase. At the end of the war, my grandmother searched for remaining survivors and found no one. She went to a DP camp in Germany, remarried and eventually came to America where she once again, created a life from the shards of a destroyed past.

Meir was on a return trip to Belgium when his train was re-routed to the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz. His apparent fate was unmistakably sealed, but Meir managed to jump off the moving train, and under a hail of bullets, succeeded in escaping unharmed. As a result of his “run-away”, Meir was forced into hiding for over a year. We know little about this interim time, except that he periodically visited his wife and young son in Liege, Belgium. Due to his dire circumstances and with survival barely hanging on a thread, they did not recognize the malnourished, aged man at their doorstep. It took much convincing on his part until they were able to see the husband and father they knew and loved.

After the war, Meir returned to his family. He found no surviving siblings. He adopted his orphaned niece and raised his son, Chaim. The word Chaim means life. Amidst the rubble, he too, sought to find meaning in his survival. I’d like to think he found it in his child, a new ember of renewed life and opportunity to cast the ultimate revenge for the 6 million lost souls of the Holocaust. Long after the reunion, Chaim told us that although Meir was not religious, once a year – on Yom Kippur – he would take down the picture of his murdered family, and cry.

Sixty-seven years passed.

Somehow, a seed was planted in my grandmother’s mind and she began flirting with the idea that her brother may somehow have survived the war. There was no apparent evidence of him being alive, but this thought would not rest and she became obsessed with the On Yom Kippur he would take down the picture of his murdered family and cry minute possibility that Meir had survived. My family contacted the Red Cross who informed us it would be up to 2 years before any information would be available. Clearly, this was not an option. My grandmother was desperate for closure, in whichever direction this story would take her.

During this limbo time, my father related the circumstances of an increasingly urgent situation to a Belgian co-worker. As a suggestion, he encouraged my father to contact a particular Rabbi living in Belgium who he felt could be of assistance. Several weeks after the initial contact with Rabbi Kornfeld, we received a call from him. My mother answered, and I can only imagine the overwhelming flood of emotions she must have experienced as he said, “I just spoke to your uncle a half hour ago.”

After confirming that it was 100 percent the right person, my mother called her uncle and introduced herself as the niece he had never known. My mother is Chaya. Chaya too, means life.

It was time for my grandmother to discover that the deep voice of a nagging hope had proved to be correct and indeed, her brother was alive. My mother relates that she felt like the biblical Serach, daughter of Asher. Serach was appointed to tell her elderly grandfather, Yaakov, that his beloved son Joseph was alive and well in Egypt after many years of believing he had been killed. It was as though a remarkable piece of history was replaying itself in our generation.

As my mother told her mother that Meir was alive, my grandmother broke out into tears and laughter. Who would ever believe that she had one living relative? Someone had survived?? She was not alone? Once again, by a succession of events nothing short of a miracle, there was brother and sister.

Several months later, my grandmother, mother and aunt traveled to Belgium where they were greeted by Meir, his son and niece. The resemblance between Sima and Meir was strikingly uncanny. As they sat in the airport and regaled memories of their early childhoods and attempted to catch up on 68 years of history, it was apparent that neither wanted to dwell on the devastations of the war. They had found each other. This was enough. I believe their experiences are entirely unique and the true blessing of such a reunion is one I will never fully comprehend. I feel fortunate to be a continuing piece of this story, and to carry the name of their mother [of blessed memory], Chana.

One year after Meir and Sima were reunited, Meir passed away. He was a quiet man who suffered greatly throughout his lifetime, yet lived with unparalleled grace and sensitivity despite his unimaginable ordeals. There is much I can learn from his strength.

My grandmother, Sima [May she live and be well] continues to be a source of inspiration for me and my family and remains a symbol of true beauty and refinement.

I dedicate this piece to the brother and sister, Meir and Sima.