MyHeritage Reunites Two Brothers Separated for 65 Years

MyHeritage Reunites Two Brothers Separated for 65 Years


“I can’t tell you what it means to finally meet my brother after 65 years.”

At MyHeritage, we regularly hear from our users about life-changing discoveries they have made about their families using our website. Today we share with you a truly exceptional story, and one that we had the privilege of taking part in as it unfolded. This is the story of two brothers separated as young children in post-World War II Europe. They hadn’t seen one another in 65 years — until MyHeritage reunited them.

Long-lost brothers Izak and Shep meet up in MyHeritage HQ. (Click to view in full size)

Izak Szewelewicz was born in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen, Germany shortly after World War II. This was a tumultuous time in Europe, with masses of people who had lost their family members and homes scrambling to start over. Izak has no memories of his early years in the camp. He was sent to Israel for adoption in 1948, at the age of three, and raised by his adopting family. Izak’s biological mother, Aida, had meanwhile immigrated to Canada, and she later found and contacted Izak when he was an adolescent. They met several times and kept in touch, but she always refused to speak about the identity or fate of Izak’s father or anyone else from the family.

Just a few years ago, Izak received documents from the Bergen-Belsen archive that delivered a shocking revelation: he had had a brother named Shepsyl in the camp, as well as another relative. The records indicated that both relatives had emigrated to Canada, separately from his mother. Is Shepsyl still alive? Where might he be now? And who is this other relative? Could it be Izak’s father?

In 2013 Izak’s nephew, Alon Schwarz, reached out to MyHeritage and asked us to help him find Izak’s brother. Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet took a special interest in Izak’s mysterious story, and requested that our senior researcher and Head of Genealogy (UK), Laurence Harris, devote his time and expertise to try to locate Izak’s family and uncover what happened. Together with Alon, Laurence embarked on a relentless and truly international search through the archives at Bergen-Belson in Germany and Yad Vashem in Israel, Canadian and Israeli vital records, and online family trees.

Laurence’s search eventually led him to Melanie Shell, the only daughter of a blind Winnipeg man in his 60s named Shep Shell. Corresponding with Melanie, Laurence discovered that Shep’s name had been anglicized upon arrival in Canada; his original name was Szepsyl Szewelewicz, and Melanie confirmed that he had been born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the War. All the pieces fit together. Izak’s brother had been found.

An emotional reunion between the brothers took place in Canada. Izak finally had the chance to get to know his younger brother, a visually-impaired Paralympic skier, cyclist, and marathon-runner. A few days later, they went to visit Aida. Shep met his mother for the very first time since he was a baby. Aida called him “Shepsyl’e”

Izak and Shep are reunited for the first time at the airport in Canada (Click to view in full size)

Shep meets his mother Aida for the first time since he was a baby (Click to view in full size)
Aida and her two sons Izak and Shep embrace at their emotional reunion (Click to view in full size)

In March 2014, Shep and Izak came to visit the MyHeritage offices to thank the employees for their role in reuniting them.

MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet greets Shep as MyHeritage senior researcher Laurence Harris looks on. (Click to view in full size)

Izak and Shep tell their story at the MyHeritage offices (Click to view in full size)
There is no shortage of tears at the MyHeritage office as employees meet the brothers and hear their story (Click to view in full size)
Izak and Shep at the MyHeritage event. On the left is Racheli, Izak's wife (Click to view in full size)
From left: MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet, Izak, Shep, and senior researcher Laurence Harris (Click to view in full size)

Shep Shell recently wrote:

“I can’t tell you what it means to finally meet my brother after 65 years and find that I also have a wonderful, large family as a bonus. [This is also] the fulfilment of my lifelong dream to find my birth mother… Finding Aida closes a circle for me and gives me peace of mind that I am not alone.”

Alon Schwarz has produced and directed a feature-length documentary about this story, named Aida’s Secrets. The film follows the family’s efforts to uncover their post-World War II history and captures the reunions between the two brothers and between Shep and his mother. Aida’s Secrets includes many twists and turns in the quest to uncover the history of the family, including the surprising results of a DNA test, and an amazing album the researchers discovered, showing life at the Bergen-Belsen DP camp right after the war as the survivors began rebuilding their lives. The film will have its world premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto on May 3, 2016. Visit the film’s page on Facebook.

Reunions like this are the essence of MyHeritage. Although we develop tools and technologies for users to make discoveries for themselves (we are not a research company that does research for the users), we occasionally have the opportunity to utilize our expertise and resources to help out with humanitarian genealogical quests like this one; we always do this as volunteers without any fees or profit, even if we end up investing hundreds or thousands of hours. The end result is always worth it, as genealogy can often change lives for the better.

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  • Patricia Farris

    May 4, 2016

    What a wonderful story. I love these story’s. I watch a show on tv about people looking for there real parents after being adopted. Always makes me cry.

  • Richard O’Daniels

    May 5, 2016

    Love always finds a way in our lives. The rewards are heart felt.

  • A real mom

    May 11, 2016

    Please remember that adoptive parents are every bit as real as biological. They are there on the ground loving & nurturing the child. I do agree that the stories of tragic separations and reunions are really fascinating and heart wrenching.

  • Karla Saravia

    May 19, 2016

    Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. Please let us know how and where can we see the film. Wish there were more of such stories to tell. Again, Thank you!

  • Irene Ison

    June 7, 2016

    I hope that documentary gets to be shown in Australia wuold love to see it! I love stories with a happy ending. My Heritage is very useful
    in such research. Great stuff Irene Ison

  • Charles Quinlan

    June 7, 2016

    I just recently found out I was adopted at the age of 70. My mom who is my bio mom kept it a secret that my dad adopted me when I was 9 months old. Big shock! Anyway, I have been looking ever since and have done two YDNA test and one regular DNA. Finding lots of names I don’t recognize. I think my quest is futile. All I have is a name that she is not sure of.

  • Margo Schwartz nee Kirschner

    June 7, 2016

    Moving story. As my grandparents perished in the Holocaust I never even seen a picture of them . Working on the family history at least I found a picture of my grandmother’s brother …very emotional

  • Elliot E Mazer

    June 7, 2016

    Stories like this have tremendous historical importance. This article and the film should be archived in a Shoa site like Yad Vashem or Stephen Spielberg’s Shoa project. Where can the film be seen?

  • Janice

    June 7, 2016

    What a wonderful story. I was truly getting chills reading it. Great work! :-)))

  • Barry Rellaford

    June 8, 2016

    Thanks for the great work you’re doing to unite families – these efforts uplift and inspire!

  • Rosemary Shearer

    June 8, 2016

    What a great reward for the historians who persevered and brought this family together. Congratulations to all concerned.

  • Bonnie Tillinghast

    June 8, 2016

    This was a touching story it hits home my sister was looking for her children for over thirty years, no one would help her she went to many places that she thought would help her but they declined. I would have loved to meet them but I guess not. I’m proud to hear what you are doing for people.

  • Laurine Amo

    June 8, 2016

    Although you are unable to do many requests for assistance in searching for family, it is very kind of you to do the occasional one that might never be solved if you didn’t help. I enjoyed this story so much.

  • Ann Ross

    June 8, 2016

    A heart warming story. Wonderful work by MyHeritage. Well done.

  • Judith Shoob Pitsinger

    June 8, 2016

    What a wonderful heartfelt story. This can happen so many years later. I have been delving into my fathers side of the family. I had been looking for a connection how some of our family got to England. I do believe I found the answer after much work. I never knew my grand father or if he had a sibling. After much looking over records and emails I finally found the link. I am so great full these two brothers found each other and their mother.

  • Betty McDonald

    June 8, 2016

    Great news and best wishes to all,,,,, Thanks MyHeritage for finding and bringing
    this family together,,,,,,, wonderful

  • Pete Jonker

    June 8, 2016

    What an incredible heartwarming, inspiring, uplifting and (more than anything else) moving story! Many kudos to MyHeritage for all the volunteer hours it took to bring about this result. Combined with the truly outstanding customer service I have received from MyHeritage, this strengthens my resolve to continue to work with MyHeritage on my own genealogical quest.

  • Adrene Tomie

    June 8, 2016

    A great story.

  • Joan M Middleton

    June 8, 2016

    In 1995 prior to My Heritage, my late husband David and I began with the LDS Family Search records. They were the only source of Social Security Death Index at that time. The only info my husband had was his Father’s birth date, his Parents had separated in 1934, passing on the story that they were divorced (not) and that the son David had died (not). Father died in 1981, Mother died in 1983. LDS guided us from SSI to the (Dallas) Texas death certificate, next to send for the obituary that listed the Fathers first and second marriages with two children each. Sadly the oldest son passed away two years earlier, but the sister lived in Melbourne, FL was always in touch with (Ray) the children of the second marriage. (Baby sister deceased). We all met in Melbourne, FL for our first reunion. March 1996, meeting with many wonderful nieces and a nephew. The new family was amazed that David was very much alive. We all keep in touch. Another Happy Ending.

  • Heather

    June 9, 2016

    Fantastic story! Thank you for sharing – so cool it is a documentary too. What fun it must have been for those doing the research – kudos.

  • Robin Edwards

    June 9, 2016

    Last year my 70 year old husband met his 2 half brothers and this year a half sister that he never knew existed. He was born during the second world war and was in his twenties when he found out he was adopted. It was just by chance when I started to research his family that a distant cousin in Australia put a photo on line of his birth father. The resemblance was unmistakable. After contacting the owner of the photo he agreed to make contact with the family who never knew of their older brother’s existence. When they met it was instant recognition. Now he has an enormous family history. A very happy and satisfactory ending.

  • Adele Cathro

    June 9, 2016

    I thought this was a wonderful find & i was so pleased to hear that the family were brought back together.

  • cynthia wilkins

    June 9, 2016

    what a heartwarming story and ending there is still good people in this world

  • mary bawden

    June 9, 2016

    lovley story i also have a sad story not resoveld
    so it warms my heart to see such ahappy ending

  • Eileen Kane

    June 12, 2016

    Life is beautiful and full of miracles. Never give up the quest.

  • Ann Manchester

    June 20, 2016

    This story brought tears to my eyes, God bless everyone involved uniting this family.

  • Marlene Latham

    June 21, 2016

    Such a wonderful outcome it’s gives me the strength to continue our family search. My mother was adopted and always wanted to find information about her birth mother. We have the adoption records with the bio-mother’s name, but I could never find any thing else out. My mother has since passed away & I am 81 yrs old, but with all the new technology I am going to start researching again.

  • silvia zivia rahimi

    June 23, 2016

    A real story. unbelievable usually but believable in the holocaust circumstances. My grandfather Natan Netah Copelman died in 1942 in Iasi, Roumania. I know nothing about him nor his polish family, but I have a dream: may be somehow I will find details about his life before coming to Roumania from Polan. Such stories found by My Heritage are real MITZVOS .

  • Crystal Boehm

    July 16, 2016

    Thank you to everyone who persevered in the quest to unite a beautiful family. May everyone out there find peace in the unknown and keep the spirit alive.

  • Mary Cosgrave

    August 5, 2016

    I am very blessed and lucky to have been able to unite my Mums adopted brother with his two brothers, one was fostered by a family and the other was taken in by a farmer and his wife who cared for him very much and yes we had a great reunion. All of this was as a result of my mum falling in love with her adopted brother when she was on her way to school the local parish priest asked my grandparents if they would foster him as their boys died they said no to fostering him but would adopt him.I grew up knowing all of this storey I knew where one brother lived and who he was fostered by. i set out to find his other brother and did it in 3 months. Yes your storey of the two brothers is a wonderful storey and be proud of the work you do. May you gods bless you all in your work.