The instinct to survive is one of the strongest impulses in human beings. When your life is in danger, people will do things they never thought possible in order to escape death.
In 1939, one Polish man decided to leave his parents and brothers behind to be killed by the Nazis. It broke his heart, but the will to survive was greater than the guilt he felt. Decades later, however, he discovered something about his family’s fate that shocked him to his core…
Forced To Flee
In 1939, Eliahu Pietruszka was just 24 years old. Family meant everything to him, but he was forced to flee his home in Warsaw, Poland, and leave his parents and twin brothers, who were 8 years younger than him, while there was still time to escape the Nazis.
Escaping The Nazis
It broke Eliahu’s heart to leave his family behind, but it was the only way he would be able to survive. His parents and one of his younger brothers, Zelig, were deported from the Warsaw ghetto and sent to a Nazi death camp, where they all died…
More Trouble In Russia
His younger brother, Volf, however, managed to escape and sent word to Eliahu that he made it out of Poland alive and went to Russia. But after Volf was sent to a Siberian work camp, Eliahu never heard anything from him again and assumed his brother had died.
“In my heart, I thought he was no longer alive,” Eliahu said. Eliahu believed no one else in his family was alive and that he was all alone in Russia. However, in 1949, the now 34-year-old thought it was time he finally move on with his life and let his past go…
A Fresh Start
Eliahu got married in Russia, but instead of starting his new life there, he decided he wanted to start over in a place where he wasn’t constantly reminded of his deceased family members. In 1949, Eliahu and his new wife moved to Israel for a fresh start.
A New Life
The couple settled into their new home and started their family. It was important to Eliahu that when he and his wife had children, he lived in a place where he could be sure his loved ones would never be persecuted for their religious beliefs…
The New Family
Over the next few decades, Eliahu lived out his life in Israel and cherished his role as father and grandfather to the only family he thought he had in the world. Without his parents and brothers, his ties to Europe seemed completely severed.
The Email From Canada
Then, one day in late 2017, Eliahu’s 47-year-old grandson, Shakhar Smorodinsky, received an unusual email from a woman in Canada who had been working to uncover her family tree and claimed to be his cousin. She also shared another shocking revelation…
The woman explained that she had been looking through Yad Veshem, a database of testimony that began in 1954 with the goal of remembering and commemorating all 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi regime as individuals and not just as numbers.
Originally, the names and testimonies of the victims were stored in folders on display in the museum, but in 2004, the organization took the database online which allowed people all over the world to access the information and submit new testimonies…
A Life-Changing Testimony
While searching through the online Yad Veshem database, the Canadian woman discovered a testimony filled out in 2005 by a man named Volf Pietruszka. He believed his brother, Eliahu, had died and filled out a testimony in his name.
For Shakhar, this was shocking news. Throughout his entire life, he had been told that his grandfather was the only member of his family to escape Europe. But according to this woman, one of Eliahu’s brothers had also managed to survive…
Life In Russia
Volf had actually managed to survive the Siberian work camp. Because he too believed his family was gone, he decided to settle in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Russian Ural Mountains. Volf worked as a construction worker and eventually married and had one son, Alexandre.
Shakhar knew he had to look into the claims to see if it was possible that his great uncle had really survived. The 47-year-old professor from Ben-Gurion University found an address and reached out. He discovered that Volf had passed away in 2011, but Alexandre was still alive…
Relatives In Israel
Shakhar contacted Alexandre and organized a Skype chat to explain that Volf’s older brother was still alive and well in Israel. After Alexandre processed the shocking news, he knew there was only one thing to do while there was still time.
An Impromptu Journey
Alexandre jumped on a plane and flew all the way to Israel to meet his long-lost 102-year-old uncle while he was still alive. Once in Israel, he met up with Shakhar and went straight to Eliahu’s retirement home, where he finally got to meet his long-lost uncle…
When Alexandre and Eliahu saw each other for the first time, they both started tearing up as they hugged and kissed each other on the cheeks. “It’s a miracle. I never thought this would happen,” Alexandre kept saying during the emotional reunion.
Emotions Run High
“You are a copy of your father,” Eliahu said in Russian, a language he hadn’t spoken in decades. A language he didn’t think he would ever need to speak again in his life. “I haven’t slept in two nights waiting for you,” the 102-year-old added…
“It makes me so happy that at least one remnant remains from my brother, and that is his son,” Eliahu said with tears in his eyes and shaking hands about his long-lost nephew. “After so many years I have been granted the privilege to meet him.”
End Of An Era
As time passes, reunions like this one happen less and less often since elderly survivors are passing away. “It is not too late to fill out pages of testimony. We need to document each and every victim of the Holocaust,” said Alexander Avram, the director of the Yad Vashem database. “But such a reunion is a very special moment because we are not going to see a lot more of them in the future.”