75 Years After 2-Year-Old and Mother Separated at Auschwitz, Their Families Find Each Other

Comments5

When Clare Reay’s son bought her a MyHeritage DNA test, she hoped to discover a little about her mother’s ethnic background.

She never imagined that the test would lead her to solve the mystery of her mother’s origins and find the sisters who had been searching for her for more than 50 years.

Watch their moving virtual reunion on this segment of the TODAY Show from this past weekend:

Clare’s mother Evelyn always believed she had been born and orphaned in a concentration camp in 1945. She was told she was found there after liberation and sent to an orphanage in Israel, where she was adopted by a Belgian couple and eventually moved to England. With no knowledge of her original name or date of birth, all Evelyn’s attempts to learn more about where she came from had come up dry.

Clare (left) with her mother Evelyn (center) and father

Then, one DNA Match on MyHeritage came along and changed everything.

‘How do you find somebody who doesn’t know her name?’

Sisters Dena Morris and Jean Gearhart of Ohio, U.S.A., were adults when their mother, Dora, revealed to them that they had an older sister who disappeared at Auschwitz. She told them that she had arrived at the concentration camp with her two-year-old daughter Eva. Dora was separated from Eva upon arrival, never to see her again.

Dora and Eva

Dora survived Auschwitz and went to Austria, where her daughters Jean and later Dena were born. The family moved to the United States when the girls were young.

Dora’s passport, issued in 1948

When Jean and Dena learned that they had another sister, they set out to find her — and their search lasted more than 50 years. Dora returned to Germany twice and searched every orphanage she could find, to no avail. “It took its toll on her,” says Dena.

The sisters also tried to go through the Red Cross to find Eva. “But how do you find somebody who doesn’t know her name? We knew her name, but she would not have known her name. So we hit brick walls everywhere.”

An unexpected DNA Match

Around a year ago, Jean suggested taking DNA tests to discover a little more about their origins. Dena agreed, and they each took a MyHeritage DNA test.

Then, about a month ago, they received an email notification about a DNA Match: Clare, the daughter of their long-lost sister.

“I was floored by the DNA result,” says Dena. “I called my sister and I said to her, ‘Did you get something from MyHeritage about some DNA results?’”

It turned out that little Eva had somehow survived and was rescued. She went by the name Evelyn and lived the rest of her life believing her mother was dead.

“We never ever ever thought we would get a DNA Match,” says Clare. “Not for one second did we think we would get the match that we got. We were simply blown away.”

The MyHeritage Research team dives in

When the MyHeritage Research team learned of this story, they delved into the records to uncover more information about the family’s background. What they found sheds a little more light on the story.

One of the documents they discovered was a passenger list from the ship that took Eva to Israel in 1948.

Passenger list from the Kirnia; Eva is listed as number 9

According to the document, Eva Lestman departed from Marseille on the Kirnia and arrived in Israel on February 16, 1948.

The Research team also found a document issued in Camp Grohn, a U.S. military base on the outskirts of Bremen, Germany after World War II ended, that lists Dora and the man who was her husband — Leiba — as well as Jean (Regina) and Dena (by the full Hebrew name Malkadina).

The document is dated October 28, 1949 and lists Dora’s occupation as metal worker — something neither Jean nor Dena had known.

“Correspondence and nominal roles, done at Bremen-Grohn: transport by ship (USS GENERAL TAYLOR); transit countries and final destinations: USA,” from the Arolsen Archives

It also lists a destination address: 1528 North Market Ave, Canton, Ohio. When our researchers passed this address on to the family, the family told them that this was the address of the Canton Jewish Center, which had sponsored their immigration.

Additionally, the Research team found documentation of the family’s arrival in the U.S. in the MyHeritage collection of passenger lists and travel documents. The Rapaports departed on the U.S.S. General Harry Taylor from Brehemenhaven, Germany, and arrived in New York, New York on November 7, 1949.

The family appears on a passenger list from the U.S.S. General Harry Taylor

“She could be the twin of my mother”

“This is all so amazing that I’m just not sure how to feel,” says Dena. “I’m just in disbelief at this point, mainly because this has been such a lifelong struggle.” She says it’s a bittersweet experience because they have lived all these years thinking that they had no family. “They both were so tortured over it that I just wish it could have happened years ago, where they both could have had some peace of mind.”

“We always knew about Eva, but we didn’t know where to begin to find her,” she goes on. “Now we have pictures, and she could be the twin of my mother. It’s insane because Clare’s mother looks identical to Mum. Everything from the color that they colored their hair to their build, their appearance, the look on their face… it is exactly the same.”

Evelyn/Eva, Clare’s mother
Dora, mother of Eva, Jean, and Dena and grandmother of Clare

Clare, Dena, and their families desperately want to meet in person, but the travel restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis have made that impossible for now. Our researchers suggested doing a Zoom reunion for the time being, and they readily agreed. “Oh my gosh, that would be amazing,” Dena exclaimed.

On June 5, the TODAY Show hosted a virtual meeting for Dena and Clare, and the two saw each other live for the first time.

“You do look like my mum,” Clare exclaimed, overcome with emotion. “It’s really surreal, but fantastic at the same time.”

“It is just incredible,” Dena agreed. “I only wish I could hug her right now.”

“Soon!” Clare promised.

When asked how she thinks her mother would have felt to see this, Dena said that she thinks she would have been amazed and overwhelmed.

“I’m hoping that they’re both in heaven, their souls together,” she said, “and they know.”

Do you have an unsolved mystery in your family? Consider taking the MyHeritage DNA test — you never know what you might discover.

Leave a comment

The email address is kept private and will not be shown

  • Patricia WIlliams-Orosz


    September 16, 2020

    My Grandmother was born to the maid in a lodging house in London, England & the son of the woman who owned it. The son was sent abroad. My Grandmother was raised by another family who had lost their daughter the same month my Grandmother was born. However her Birth Mother kept in contact with her. This was the story that I was told. Fortunately my Mom had been taken as a child to meet her Grandmother, we had her name & pictures of her. From the 1891 & 1901 census I found my Biological Great-Grandmother & the son of the owner. He was sent to South Africa. He married an older divorced woman & never had any children with her. He brought her back to England but unfortunately they were both killed during the Blitz in WWII. However some 5 years after taking a DNA test, I am now being matched to descendants of my 3x Great Grandfather. I would recommend everyone searching to do this test.

  • William David Rooseboom


    October 14, 2020

    For many years since I discovered the truth of my late father’s background, I came across relatives, to whom wrote, in the hope that they might respond to my queries about the Jewish relatives, who have survived the Holocaust, were or are connected to my father’s family.
    Over the years, I have written to countless whom I thought are related me.But there hasn’t been any satisfactory response whatsoever.

  • E. Enwright


    October 14, 2020

    This great story could use some careful editing as well as clarifications to add interest. I had to read it three times to understand the relationships and generations involved and who is now alive or dead and which generations intend to meet each other. Oh, and did the girls have the same father? What became of him and the family after immigrating to US.

  • Richard G MILLS


    October 14, 2020

    Wow ! what an amazing story, I am truly glad that the Mother and Baby Daughter, survived the Horrors of the Notorious Death Camps, But really sadden that they where parted from each other never to see each other again. And now that Baby grown up and reunited with her siblings, My mother surname was Morris, her family originating in the past from Zara in 1600 BC and Monmouth in Wales direct link to the Royal Families of Europe going back to the Sumerians in the biblical times. The story brought tears to my Eyes both sad and joyous. May she have a very Happy Life she deserves it.

    God Bless. and all my best wishes.

  • Rebekah Roach


    October 14, 2020

    Heartwarming story
    The email address below IS mine.