He Thought His Entire Family Had Died In The Holocaust. Then Came A Miracle.

“This is one of the last opportunities that we will have to witness something like this.”

Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, operates the Names Recovery Project in hopes of chronicling the stories of the Holocaust's six million Jewish victims. But the project's online database also helped a 102-year-old man named Eliahu Pietruszka realize his brother had actually survived. And though his brother passed away in 2011, as reported by The Associated Press, Pietruszka got to meet his brother's son for the very first time in 2017.

According to ABC News, Eliahu Pietruszka was 24 years old when he fled Warsaw, Poland, in 1939 as World War II broke out. He left behind his parents and his teenaged twin brothers, Volf and Zelig. The Nazis deported his parents and his brother Zelig and killed them at a death camp, but Volf escaped and briefly corresponded with Eliahu. Then Russians sent Volf to a work camp in Siberia. "In my heart, I thought he was no longer alive," Eliahu Pietruszka told the Associated Press.

                 
                                   
               

Thinking he had no family left, Pietruszka started a new life. Per Haaretz, he got married in Russia and, in 1949, moved to Israel. He worked as a microbiologist before his retirement and is now the great-grandfather of 10. In November, his grandson Shakhar Smorodinsky got an email from a cousin in Canada working on a family tree. That cousin had found a page of testimony about Eliahu that Volf had filed with Yad Vashem in 2005. Volf had assumed Eliahu had died in the Holocaust, as well.

Volf also started a new life, working as a construction worker in the industrial city Magnitogorsk. Smorodinsky found Volf's address and learned Volf had died in 2011. But Smorodinsky also discovered Volf had one child, a 66-year-old named Alexandre, who was still living in Magnitogorsk.

Just days later, Alexandre arrived at Pietruszka's retirement home in central Israel. The two men greeted each other in a tearful embrace, Pietruszka speaking Russian for the first time in decades. "You are a copy of your father," he said. "I haven't slept in two nights waiting for you."

"It's a miracle," Alexandre said repeatedly. "I never thought this would happen."

For Yad Vashem, Pietruszka's reunion with a nephew he never knew he had represents a silver lining for the work the organization has been doing since 1954. ("Yad vashem" is Hebrew for "a monument and a name.") When Yad Vashem took its database online in 2004, the database contained 3 million names. With the dawn of the internet, that number has risen to 4.7 million.

Yad Vashem official Debbie Berman was there for Pietruszka's reunion. "This is one of the last opportunities that we will have to witness something like this," she told The Associated Press. "I feel like we are kind of touching a piece of history."

Cover image via Alexandre Rotenberg / Shutterstock.com

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