Thursday, September 3, 2009

Page of Testimony Leads to Family Reunion

To say this is the most astonishing e-mail of my life would be an understatement. -- Gerald Schor

Some 64 years after the end of WWII, Nomi Schlomovitz, a Holocaust survivor living in Deerfield, Florida who lost most of her family in the Holocaust, saw a photograph of her father for the first time and discovered cousins she didn’t know existed: Gerald Schor, a former American living in Ra’anana, and his family. Nomi’s grandfather Zisha Katz was a well-known actor with the Yiddish Band of Warsaw (pictured here, center) . In the summer of 1939, he traveled to New York with his troupe for an extended run of performances. While in NY, the 47-year old actor stayed with the Schor family, sharing a room with his much younger cousin, 11-year-old Gerald, where after the evening’s performance the two would talk, developing a very close relationship.

Hearing rumors of imminent war, Zisha returned home to his wife Topsha and his children Boaz and Yaakov and Chana, his daughter-in-law. The Schor and Katz families lost contact, until, in 1942, the Schors read in a local Yiddish paper, of the suicide of the famous Yiddish actor Zisha Katz, who had taken his own life after learning that his family had been murdered.

But unknown to Zisha, Yaakov and Chana had actually escaped to Russia, where their daughter Zisel (now Naomi) was born. Yaakov died in 1943 in Siberia, when Zisel, named for her grandfather Zisha, was just a baby. After the war, Gerald’s father sought out any possible survivors in his family, placing advertisements in Yiddish newspapers in Europe. He found only three - and for over 60 years they believed that was the total number of survivors of their family who had lived in Europe at the outset of WWII.

“I'm the great-granddaughter of Zisha Katz. Can you be my cousin?"


Matthew, Naomi’s grandson was planning a bar mitzvah celebration in Israel together with his parents, grandparents and sister. In preparation for their visit, Nomi’s daughter Penny Glaser, of Long Island, NY, logged on to the Yad Vashem website in order to plan their visit. Noticing a link for the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, Penny searched to see if her great-grandfather was commemorated there. “I saw the Page of Testimony and thought, I didn’t submit it and my mother didn’t submit it, so who did?” At the bottom of the page was the signature “Gerald Schor, cousin.” Penny decided to do a little more research and quickly typed Gerald Schor’s name where she was amazed to discover that he had a Facebook page. After that things moved quickly. She sent an email to Gerald, and they confirmed that indeed, they were cousins. Since then, the families have been in constant contact, and are spending 3 weeks together in Israel. Shortly after the initial discovery, Gerald sent an excited email to Yad Vashem:


"…For over 60 years, we believed that was there were only three
survivors of our family who had lived in Europe at the outset of WWII.In June 2009 I was astonished to receive an e-mail from a woman named Penny who wrote: "I'm the great-granddaughter of Zisha Katz. Can you be my cousin?"…She wrote that despite the news which led Zisha to take his own life, his son Yakov and his wife Chana had somehow managed to escape to Russia when the Nazis invaded Poland. Chana gave birth to a daughter in 1942, whom they named Zeisel, in remembrance of Zisha Katz. Yakov died in Russia in 1943 but Chana and Zeisel survived the war, although Chana apparently was not able to find any of her husband's family afterwards. Zeisel, now named Naomi, eventually immigrated to America and now has two children and four grandchildren.

…next month when they arrive here for the celebration of Matthew's bar-mitzvah. Naomi and family will be meeting at least two dozen of her newly-found relatives in Israel. We are all thrilled. You can be sure that the memory of our relative Zisha Katz will be surrounding us all.We thank Yad Vashem for never allowing the world to forget those who perished in the Holocaust, and for helping to reunite us with members of our family whose existence we were completely unaware of."

Cynthia Wroclowaski, Outreach Manager of Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project, arranged a special visit for the family to Yad Vashem. On August 31, 2009, the two families had an emotional reunion at Yad Vashem that included a moving memorial ceremony in the Synagogue. The family recited the names of relatives murdered in the Shoah, celebrated the new ones they had found, and marked the occasion of Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah in the city of Jerusalem. A tearful Naomi noted that this was a very bittersweet day for her; on the one hand remembering her murdered grandfather and father, and on the other hand celebrating her grandson’s bar mitzvah. “I dreamed all my life to see a picture of my father, now for the first time, I’ve seen his picture…A miracle happened and I found a wonderful family.”

Penny recalled that when she found the Page of Testimony and discovered the family, “everything clicked into place… out of the lost, comes the found. I’m so thankful that Yad Vashem made that possible with that link on the page.” Matthew spoke passionately about the need to strengthen Jewish identity, and one of Zisha’s nephews who lives in Israel noted that,

“Yad Vashem for me has become the foundation of the past upon which the future is built.” Gerald Schor recalled his summer experience with Zisha, and said, “On one of the happiest days of our lives, we learned this granddaughter had survived.” For two weeks, the families have caught up on over 60 years. “I will cherish the memory of these two weeks as long as I live.” It was an emotional event that celebrated Jewish continuity and connectedness.

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