The very name evokes an onslaught of emotions ranging from fear and sadness to anger and rage.
Millions of innocent lives were systematically snuffed out. Children were ripped from mothers. Elderly men and women who should have been relaxing in their golden years were forced into hard labor or killed. Vulnerable people were experimented on and mercilessly tortured and killed. It is a dark and heinous mark on the history of our world.
In 1939, 24-year-old Eliahu Pietruszka was living with his family in Warsaw, Poland. When World War II erupted and the Nazis began their invasion of Poland, Eliahu fled to the Soviet Union, leaving behind his parents and twin brothers Volf and Zelig, who were nine years younger.
The rest of his family was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Nazi death camps. Eliahu believed all of them had been killed.
A short time later, Eliahu heard from Volf. The young teen had managed to escape!
The brothers corresponded briefly, but then more tragedy struck. Volf was sent by the Russians to a Siberian work camp. Eliahu thought it was the end for his brother.
“In my heart, I thought he was no longer alive,” he said.
Eliahu married in Russia and in 1949, thinking he had no family left, moved to Israel to start a new one. He often thought of the family he had left behind, heartbroken over the evil committed against them, but convinced they were all gone.
Decades passed. And then, a miracle.
A few weeks ago, Eliahu’s grandson, Shakhar Smorodinsky, received an email from a cousin in Canada who had been working on their family tree. She was looking at the Yad Vashem website, a database of pages of testimony which commemorate the names of the estimated 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide, when she discovered something stunning: a page of testimony written by Volf in 2005 for Eliahu, who he thought had died.
It turned out Volf survived the Soviet work camp and had settled in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Ural Mountains. He spent his life working in construction and had one child, a son named Alexandre.
Shakhar reached out to Alexandre who was just as shocked to learn he had family members he never knew about. He agreed to come to Israel to meet his uncle.
The meeting was, to say the least, an emotional one for all involved. Eliahu and Aleksandr held each other tightly as tears streamed down their faces.
“I have waited 70 years to see you. 70 years!” Eliahu told Aleksandr through tears.
The meeting brought back memories long-forgotten.
“You are a copy of your father,” Eliahu told his nephew.
“It’s a miracle. I never thought this would happen,” Alexandre kept saying as he sat with Eliahu and the pair talked.
Sadly, Volf passed away in 2011 at the age of 88, never knowing his brother was alive. While Eliahu is sad he never got to see his brother again, he rejoices in the life he had and the legacy he has left behind.
“It makes me so happy that at least one remnant remains from my brother, and that is his son,” Eliahu said. “After so many years I have been granted the privilege to meet him.”
Eliahu and Aleksandr may not have known of each other’s existence before a few weeks ago, but their new bond is an unbreakable one.
“Now you have a big family here in Israel,” Eliahu told his nephew. “You won’t be alone.”
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