A true tale of a modern-day miracle
I play the lottery in at least two states. I am by no means a gambler, but I always have the optimistic attitude that I will win. Someone has to, and why can’t it be me? I have great plans about how to spend my winnings, and dream of how altruistic I could be by volunteering my time to help others.
Throughout my life, I wondered why miracles, as detailed in the Bible, are no longer evident. That doesn’t mean miracles don’t happen, As my father once wryly noted, "It’s a miracle that with all the countries that have nuclear capability, human life still exists."
Some of the writer’s family members include, seated from left, her new cousin Alex Brodt, her father Hank Brodt, and his wife, Ada. Standing, from left, are "new" family members Emile Brodt, Oleg Brodt, and Julia Gurvitch Brodt.
This is a pretty optimistic view from a man who survived to tell his story of life in German-occupied Poland. My father was one of three children and had five half-siblings. He was aware that all were murdered during the Holocaust with the exception of his brother, who was drafted into the Russian army. When my father was finally liberated from the last of several concentration camps, shortly after the war, he was able to find only some distant relatives none of whom he knew before. He developed relationships with them, though they lived a great distance away from us.
My father also tried to find his brother and his maternal niece as well as relatives whose final destinations and outcomes were unknown. Family possessions were never found. Many survivors did not even have photographs to tell the stories of love and family that would give the survivors a sense of belonging and would help give meaning to memory of lives once lived and shared. These material losses were a further assault on those who survived.
Like most children of Holocaust survivors, I fantasized about alleviating my father’s pain. We feel our parents’ profound losses instinctively, and bear witness to either constricted affect or bothersome Cluster C symptoms associated with severe trauma. We imagine finding lost relatives. We tread lightly, asking questions carefully, for fear of causing more harm and distress.
I remember Eli Weisel saying that when we talk to survivors about their experiences in the Holocaust "we are treading on hallowed ground." Despite all that, I am determined to help my father. Together, the two of us continued to hunt for any trace of his brother and niece. At times, he would say, "They are probably dead, because otherwise they would have looked and found me."
At some point in the 1980s, the Red Cross offered to help survivors locate information regarding their families. We took them up on the offer and wrote to Poland and the Russian military, to no avail. When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington, D.C., I spent a full day during Police Week in its research facilities. Once again we found nothing.
With the development of the Internet, the dead silence of the past was broken for many when somehow the wonderful Website, JewishGen Family Finder (www.jewishgen.org/jgff), was created. I immediately posted my surname, reaching out to the world. But there were still no signs of my father’s family.
Despite his pain, my father wants the world never to forget or to remain silent. He does so by sharing his story with the youth of today, and for the last two years has participated in the March of the Living. In the words of William Shakespeare, he is in the evolving process of "giving sorrow words."
So what has all this to do with lotteries and miracles?
Recently, I won the lottery: I received a letter of inquiry from JewishGen.org.
What did I win? A miracle. The miracle of my paternal uncle’s survival and the fact that he had a family. The inquiry on JewishGen came from my father’s great-nephew who told us that unfortunately, my father’s brother had died in 1986, but that he has a sister-in-law, nephews, their wives, and three great-nephews. We were unable to find them when they lived behind the Iron Curtain but they had made aliyah in the 1990s and now live in Israel.
When the facts were confirmed, I walked on a cloud for one week, repeating endlessly that I had won the lottery. This reaffirmed what I have known all along that riches are not measured in money, but by the feeling of belonging to a family. That need to belong is one that is so basic, and yet, at times, is taken for granted.
Despite the happiness, there are still issues to work through. It is painful to discover that your brother was alive for 40 years after the war and that there was no contact. This results in old, familiar feelings of intense loss and grief. There is a sense of confusion. We are all getting to know one another with a great geographical distance between us.
What can I say? When you win money, there are things that need to be worked out and addressed. When you win the family lottery, you begin to trace family history, something I have never had before.
I look forward to bridging the gap and forging strong relationships with the paternal side of my family. It truly is a miracle and blessing that we all have been giving this win.
My "new" cousin’s wife, Julia Gurvitch, is a pianist in a group of musicians from the Keshet Eilon Music Center in Israel that will be playing across the states and at Carnegie Hall in New York next month. And believe it or not, their last stop is at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades on Nov. 19. I will meet her for the first time as she performs in New Jersey. She will then spend a day and half with me.
It is amazing how one can feel a sense of love and belonging before meeting face to face.
Keep the 19th of November open should be a great concert.
Another wonderful occurrence came out of this experience of putting my feelings and thoughts to words. I made contact with a wonderful person, Jeanette Friedman, communications director of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. I want to thank her for her help in editing my work.