Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Discovering New Family

This is yet another incredible and unexpected story of a family reunited as a result of documentation found in Yad Vashem's Archives. Pages of Testimony are an excellent tool in filling in the missing pieces of family histories and uniting a family that was dispersed because of the Holocaust.

Valery Simonov, who lives in Pinsk, Belarus, recently began looking for information about the father he never knew.  What he discovered was so much more, including a half-sister living here in Israel.

Valery and Dalia holding family pictures
Growing up, Valery's mother, Olga Simonov, never spoke about who his father was or that he left her when she was pregnant. When Valery was born his mother named him Valery Volfovich Simonov - a combination of her name and his father's name, Wolf.  Around a year and a half ago Valery discovered from Svetlana, a family friend who helped raise him, that his father's surname was Sternik. Valery proceeded to reach out to Yad Vashem and requested information about his father, Wolf Sternik. Rita Margolin a researcher in Yad Vashem's Reference and Information Services Department, searched for Wolf's name in the Yad Vashem archival documents from Pinsk. With the help of Pages of Testimony and other documentation Rita was able to find out what had happened to Wolf Sternik during the war, and later discovered from Svetlana's friend, Rima that Wolf had remarried and had a daughter, Dalia, who currently lives in Jerusalem. Neither Dalia nor Valery knew about the other.

Wolf Sternik, a journalist, was born in Dabrowa Gornicza. He fled with his family from Warsaw to Pinsk in 1939 and later in 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, escaped to Kazakhstan. His first wife, Rachel, and son, Pawel, were murdered in Pinsk; his mother and sister were murdered in Western Ukraine.  Wolf returned to Pinsk in 1945 with Olga Simonov and her two children. Later that year, Wolf left for Poland while Simonov, who was pregnant at the time stayed in Pinsk where Valery was born in 1946. 

Dr. Haim Gertner and Rita Margolin reading archival documents
with information about the siblings
Once in Poland, Wolf married and had a daughter Dalia. Dalia and her mother moved to Israel in 1957 leaving Wolf behind in Poland where he lived until his death in 1993.

Upon discovering that Valery has a half-sister, Rita contacted Dalia immediately to tell her the exciting news. The next day Dalia visited Yad Vashem and Rita showed her all the documentation she had uncovered about Dalia's father. Dalia also had numerous documents left to her by her father.  After receiving additional information from Dalia, Rita found in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names Pages of Testimony filled out by Wolf Sternik in 1980. Rita also found relevant documents about other family members.
Rita, Dalia, Valery and Tamara at Yad Vashem Archives

As for the news about her half-brother, Dalia was skeptical at first. However, after an initial meeting on Skype, Dalia saw an unmisktable familial resemblance and realized that they were relatives. Both siblings even had the same photo of their father that they had both saved over the years.

Shortly after their Skype meeting, Dalia travelled to Pinsk to meet Valery for the first time in person.  At the end of their week together, she invited him to come visit her in Israel. During their emotional meeting at Yad Vashem, an overjoyed Valery exclaimed that he was "so excited to be here with Dalia and still can't believe that something like this could happen."


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