Family Separated During the Holocaust Find Each Other with MyHeritage DNA Test

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The horrific events of the Holocaust tore apart countless families, many of whom were never reunited. One of these families was that of Gedalya and Miriam Sura Ehrenberg, a father and daughter separated during the war who spent the rest of their lives trying to find each other. Tragically, they didn’t succeed during their lifetimes.

But thanks to MyHeritage DNA, the story didn’t end there.

80 years after Gedalya said goodbye to his daughter for the last time, their descendants have finally found each other. This story was originally featured in The Jerusalem Post Magazine on 15 January 2021.

‘Keep my daughter safe for me’

Before the war, Gedalya and his family lived in the little Polish town of Zakrzówek. Sensing the danger that was to come, Gedalya took his baby daughter, just three years old, to Aleksander Paprota — a Polish gentile he knew. Gedalya handed his daughter and a large sum of money to Aleksander and asked him to keep her safe for him. He promised to come back for her after the war if he survived.

Then, the Nazis invaded and Gedalya and his family were sent to the concentration camps. His wife and three other children perished at Auschwitz, and he lost two of his brothers. All that remained of his family was his other brother, Abraham, who survived alongside him in Dachau… and the hope that somehow, in all the madness, Aleksander had made good on his promise and kept Miriam Sura safe.

After Gedalya was liberated, he returned to his hometown to search for Aleksander and Miriam Sura. To his dismay, Miriam Sura was nowhere to be found. Aleksander, fearing that the rumors in the small town would reveal the truth about Miriam Sura’s identity, had sent her to Warsaw with a female trader — and there her tracks had disappeared.

Dachau concentration camp in Germany at the end of the war. Gedalya and his brother Abraham survived imprisonment there. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Dachau concentration camp in Germany at the end of the war. Gedalya and his brother Abraham survived imprisonment there. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Gedalya and his brother Abraham immigrated to the United States and began to build a new life there — but Gedalya never let go of his search for Miriam Sura. He regularly traveled back to Poland and searched far and wide, riding the trains and talking to strangers to gather clues about his daughter’s fate. He remarried, but his second wife was unable to bear children because of the horrors the Nazis inflicted on her.

Sadly, in 1969, Gedalya died without any children by his side.

Meanwhile in Poland

The details of what happened after Miriam Sura was sent to Warsaw are fuzzy, but what the family has been able to piece together goes like this: at the Łuków station on the way to Warsaw, German soldiers boarded the train, and the woman accompanying Miriam Sura became terrified of being caught helping a Jewish child. She scribbled a note that read, ‘My name is Marysia Dobrzynska and I am unbaptized’, hung it around the girl’s neck, and left her to her fate. ‘Unbaptized’ was code for ‘Jewish’; the woman hoped that the hint would be understood easily by a Polish Catholic, but would go right past a secular German.

The story goes that a German officer found Miriam Sura and pointed a gun at her head, but when Miriam Sura got up and threw her arms around his neck, the soldier took pity on her. He handed her over to the station keeper, who transferred her to a local church orphanage. She was baptized and renamed Wanda Maria. A month later, she was adopted by a couple named Jan and Kazimiera Alejnik.

Wanda had no memory of these events, and the childhood she remembered was a happy one. Unfortunately, Jan and Kazimiera died within a few months of each other when Wanda was 12, but Wanda went to live with an aunt and grew up in the embrace of her loving, close-knit new family.

The shattered ruins of Warsaw, the Polish capital, at the end of the war. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The shattered ruins of Warsaw, the Polish capital, at the end of the war. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Wanda married and raised a family of her own in the city of Poznan. Though she was happy with her new family, she always wondered about her missing early childhood. Given the circumstances, she suspected that her background was Jewish, but had nothing else to go on. She even hired some private detectives and tried to search for clues about her origins. But in 2012, she passed away without ever learning the truth.

A MyHeritage DNA test connects the dots

Wanda’s daughter Ewa grew up knowing what little her mother had known about her background, and as an adult, felt drawn to the Jewish community in Poznan. Though her mother’s story was enough for the Poznan Jewish community to embrace her, she wanted to learn more, and decided to do a DNA test to see if it could reveal anything about her mother’s past.

And reveal it did. When Ewa’s results came in, a DNA Match with one Morris Ehrenberg from New Jersey popped up.

Morris’s father, Isak, was Gedalya’s cousin. Ewa contacted Morris, and learned that her uncle Abraham had a son, Moshe — her own first cousin — who grew up in the United States and currently lives in Israel.

‘It was like a huge hole in our hearts started to heal,’ Joanna Pacek, Ewa’s 30-year-old daughter, told The Jerusalem Post. ‘Suddenly, we could connect the dots back to our past.’

Ewa and her brother Piotr plan to travel to Israel when the pandemic is over to meet their long-lost cousin.

Who knows what amazing stories you might discover in your MyHeritage DNA results? Order your own kit today, using the exclusive coupon code: MILITARYDNA

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