Sisters Henia and Rywka Borenstein went through life believing they were alone. Their parents had died when they were young, and they were told that their extended family had been wiped out in the Holocaust.
Over 75 years after their onslaught of the Holocaust, they received a phone call that would change their lives. On Tuesday at Yad Vashem, they met first cousins for the first time, thanks to the efforts of the Reference and Information Services Department in the Yad Vashem Archives Division and a Page of Testimony found on Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.
Born in Warsaw in 1912, Nisan Band had five sisters. In 1939, Nisan and his wife Ida, left behind their extended family and fled the Nazis to the USSR, where he remained until his death in 1983. Throughout the years, Nisan was convinced that his entire family had been murdered in the Holocaust; however, he never gave up hope of finding some remnants of his family. His children, Fania and Gennadi, immigrated to Israel with their families in the 1990s.
Earlier this year, following a “roots trip” to Poland, Fania (b. 1949) searched Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Holocaust Victims’ Names, and found a Page of Testimony that a Symcha Borenstein had filled out in memory of Fania’s father, Nisan Band. At the foot of the form, Symcha noted that he was Nisan’s brother-in-law.
Last week, Fania and her son, Evgeni, came to Yad Vashem to find out who, they believed, had mistakenly commemorated Nisan. Sima Velkovich of Yad Vashem’s Reference and Information Services Department conducted a search of the Pages of Testimony as well as the ITS (International Tracing Service) database, where she discovered that, unbeknown to Nisan, his sister Jenta Borenstein (née Band) had also been in the Soviet Union during the war and survived together with her husband and their four children.
Hercz-Lejb (b. 1924), Abram (b. 1927) and Rywka (b. 1931), were all born in Warsaw, and Hana (b. 1942)was born in Siberia. In September 1948, Jenta and Symcha immigrated to Israel together with their two daughters, Rywka and Hana. Sima’s investigation of the story also revealed that Rywka and Hana (known as Henia), still live in Israel today.
On Tuesday at Yad Vashem, Rywka and Henia met with their first cousins, Fania and Gennadi, as well as Fania’s son Evgeni, for the first time.
“It is difficult to describe how I feel,” remarked Fania Bilkay, who shared old family pictures she had saved of her father Nisan in Poland before the war. “I am deeply moved and very happy. My father always searched for members of his family and dreamed of finding them. He was alone. But ultimately, in this meeting today, his dream has finally come true.”
When Henia received the call from Yad Vashem that she has a cousin who was looking for her, she was in shock. “I grew up believing that our entire family was murdered in Poland. My parents never talked about the Shoah or their past lives. At first, I thought this news was a mistake. However, today when we met, I felt a connection at first sight; my family has grown overnight. Thanks to Yad Vashem, we discovered that we are not alone.”
Evgeni expressed his deep gratitude to Yad Vashem for its “important and meaningful work… this illustrates the connection that exists between all Jews. Here in one place, in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem has the capability of reuniting families even after all hope is lost.”
A family reunion such as this one, which occurred thanks to information filled out on Pages of Testimony, is rare. Nevertheless, Yad Vashem is committed to aiding anyone in search of lost family members.
“Yad Vashem has embarked on a mission to uncover the names of those who have no one to remember them, and we will not rest until our mission is complete,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. “I urge families who will be gathering shortly for the holiday of Hanukah to check and make sure that their loved ones who were murdered in the Holocaust are remembered and recorded in Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, and submit Pages of Testimony for those victims whose names are not yet recorded.”
About the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names
To date, Yad Vashem has identified over two-thirds of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The names of 4.6 million Shoah victims are recorded on the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names – available online at www.yadvashem.org in English, Hebrew, and Russian, Spanish and German. For more information, or for assistance in filling out Pages of Testimony, please contact the Shoah Victims’ Names Recovery Project: firstname.lastname@example.org