After 70 Years of Searching, I Found My Grandpa’s Brother

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One year ago, my entire life changed. I made a family discovery that we never believed would happen. I found my grandpa’s brother, who we lost in the Holocaust.

My grandpa was my hero. From the time I was very young, I cherished him. I have many memories of him that are etched into my soul and I carry them with me everywhere. I remember riding my bike with him, joking around about magical red cows, and listening to his story about “Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail.” Most of all, I remember the blue inky numbers on his arm.

My grandpa and I

“Grandpa, why do you have numbers on your arm?”
“I was in the Holocaust.”
“What’s a Holocaust?”
“Bad people killed my mother, father, and sister, and I lost my brother.”
“Why?”
“Because we were Jewish.”
“How did you lose your brother?”
“He escaped to Russia during the war and I never found him. I have searched everywhere for him for many years, but I don’t know what happened to him.”

My grandpa used to hide his tears during those conversations, but as I grew older, he opened up to me more and more and his 90-year-old ice blue eyes sobbed, as though he was a young man again, experiencing the horror for the first time.

The tattoo from Auschwitz on my grandpa’s arm

My grandpa spent his lifetime trying to find his brother. He grew up in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland and he had two parents (Idel and Malka Ruchel Belzycki), a sister Gitel and a brother, Chaim. All three siblings were in their 20’s when the war started and they each had different fates.

Chaim escaped from the Piotrków Trybunalski Ghetto in 1939 and went to Russia. In 1941, my grandpa’s sister died in the ghetto from Tuberculosis and in 1942, my grandpa’s parents were deported and murdered in the Nazi death camp, Treblinka.

My grandpa was sent to many different concentration camps during the Holocaust, including Auschwitz and Mauthausen. He suffered tremendously but somehow he made it out alive and made it his life’s work to find his brother. All he ever wanted was to reunite with his brother and know what happened to him.

We have boxes of letters in my house, filled with our search for Chaim. Every year, we received an answer that Chaim had not been found and that he most likely didn’t survive the war.

Last year, I took over the search. I used social media and the Internet to help me learn as much about Chaim as I could. After only 10 days of searching online, I found my grandpa’s brother’s son, Evgeny!

I received a life-changing email in my inbox. A woman told me that she read my post about Chaim and that she believed she found one of Chaim’s sons in Sakhalin Island, Russia. This man, Evgeny, said that all of the details I posted matched his father’s. We planned to Skype with Evgeny that night and prepared to ask him questions that only Chaim’s son would know.

My mom, my three sisters and I, all crowded around my mom’s bed and waited for Evgeny to come online on Skype.

“Hello, Jessica! I won’t write about the feelings I have right now, as they are indescribable. For now, I am just sending you a photograph of my father. Do you see any similarities?”

My grandpa (left) and his brother Chaim (right)

He sent a picture of his father and my mom screamed and dropped to the floor. Chaim was the spitting image of my grandpa. She burst into tears. It was her dream to see a picture of her uncle and she couldn’t believe that she was speaking to her first cousin.

“We are all so happy and crying!”

Evgeny, “I also have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.”

We scheduled a time to video chat the next morning. It was a sleepless night. How do you dream the night before you are about to meet your long-lost family? That next morning, we spoke for 2 hours, exchanging tears, laughter, photographs, and stories.

Since the moment we first found each other, not a day has gone by where we didn’t speak, despite the language barrier. Thank goodness for Google Translate!

Evgeny and I both built family trees on MyHeritage so that we could show each other who was in our families. We both had a lot to learn and had many new relatives to meet! MyHeritage was such an important tool for us since it allowed us to share our family trees in our own languages so that each of us could understand what the relationships were.

A couple of months after our discovery, Evgeny’s daughter, Yulia, and his granddaughter, Anna, came from Russia to visit us in New Jersey. We clicked right away. I guess you can say, it’s in our DNA.

Evgeny, Yulia and Anna

Even though we barely knew each other, we felt like family instantly and shared the same humor and outlook on life. A few months later, we met Evgeny for the first time.

The second my mom saw him in the airport, she ran up to him crying in his arms. They both sobbed together, with full and broken hearts.

While finding each other has been the happiest moment in our lives, it has also been the saddest.

Sadly, my grandpa and his brother Chaim died many years before we found each other. They both lived their entire lives searching for one another, never knowing that the other was still alive. They lived parallel lives and never knew it, but always hoped that one day, they would find each other.

Even though their dream didn’t come true in their lifetime, their dream did come true through their children and grandchildren. Although the odds were against us, after more than 70 years of searching, we found our family who we lost in the Holocaust.

The past year, we became very close to Evgeny and his family.

Evgeny and I

It is with a broken heart that I write to you, Evgeny passed away a few months ago. I am so grateful that I had one year to truly get to know and love him. It was shocking to find him and now shocking to lose him.

His death makes it even more important to us to keep our family bond alive, especially for future generations. The love my grandpa gave to all of us, led us to find his brother and close the gap that my family has experienced for decades. Our lives have all been changed forever.

Not only did this discovery change my life, it also changed my career. I am so proud to work for MyHeritage, a company that helps families learn more about their family history, find new relatives and learn more about their DNA and where they come from.

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