Who Am I, What Is My Name? Part I – Pnina, Otwoc, and the Kazcmareks

My name is Pnina Gutman. I am 70 years old. I began the search for my biological identity in April 1996. I called this project “Who am I what’s my name?”

I came to Israel from Poland at the age of eight with a couple whom I thought to be my parents, Mania and Mendel Himel.

As a child, I remembered living with the Himels in the town of Lodz, but it was a short time, about two years that I recall as a year in the kindergarten and a year in school. What I remembered before was an orphanage and the day the Himels were introduced to me as my parents who came to take me after the war.

This situation seemed strange to me. Why did I have to be introduced to my parents? I also remembered a Polish family and their handsome son named Bogdan. I remembered a beautiful church that appeared decorated with gold. We used to pray there.

When I asked my parents about the Otwock orphanage, they told me I was very sick and Otwock was a sort of a children hospital.  I also wondered about having photos starting at the age of 6. They replied that it wasn’t common to take photos, and the photos I had were made for my passport.  In those days, children weren’t told they were  adopted and my parents were not an exception.

I kept all those memories in a secret drawer of my heart and mind.

At the age of 16, I had a stupid argument with my father.  When I shouted at him in anger, “You are not my father!” he admitted that I was adopted. He added that I was found close to a railway station but that nothing else was known about me.  My parents didn’t have a clue who I was or where I came from.

In those days looking for your family roots wasn’t as popular and easy as it is today.  I also wasn’t interested in searching for my biological identity.  But the most important reason I did nothing was that I loved the Himels very much and was beloved by them. I simply didn’t want to hurt them.

My life continued. I studied, got married, became a mother, then a grandmother.

Meanwhile the Himels passed away in 1988 at the age of 82.

On Holocaust Anniversary Day 1996, I read about the orphanage, Otwock. I  remembered being there. The article described a woman named Lea Balint who had  lists of the Otwock children.

I met Lea.  When she allowed me to see the list of orphans, the name Barbara jumped out at me. Beside it, in parentheses, appeared two surnames, Kaczmarek and Rebhun, and the address of the Kaczmarek family in Sierakow were I lived during the war.

To me, all was clear. My real parents, the Rebhuns, had obviously entrusted me to the Kaczmareks, who brought me to the orphanage. Note that Rebhun is a Jewish name.

In pre-Internet days, genealogical searches were often slow and costly. I first wrote the Warsaw Jewish Historical Institute, Poland’s largest collection of Jewish documents, books, and objects. (See www.jewishinstitute.org.pl). Archivists found the receipt for a letter from F. Kaczmarek of Sierakow, Poland to the Warsaw Jewish Committee regarding Barbara Rebhun—but not the letter itself. By a miracle, the first of many, I later uncovered it myself in a dusty JHI cardboard carton.

Kaczmareks Cropped

The Himels

Kaczmarek wrote that in 1944, a Red Cross worker found a two-and-a-half year old Jewish girl abandoned in a train station in Milanowek, near Warsaw. She called herself Barbara Rebhun. Kaczmarek, a devout Catholic, reported raising the child ever since. He asked if he could get financial help to continue to raise the child.

My husband and I went immediately to the small town of Sierakow, Poland, to the Kaczmareks’ address found in the Otwock lists from 1948.

Standing in front of the house I could remember for sure I had lived there. The Kaczmareks had passed away but although so many years had passed, I located my stepbrother, the Kaczmareks’ son Bogdan.

Pnina outside the Kaczmarek home in Sierakow, Poland c. 1948

Pnina outside the Kaczmarek home in Sierakow, Poland c. 1948

Bogdan told us about the way I came to his family. He told us I said in German I was two-and-a half years old and that my name was Barbara Rebhun. I lived as a member of the family from September – October 1944 until March 1948.

When the Kaczmareks  wanted to adopt  me officially, they wrote to the Jewish Central Committee to ask if anyone in my family had survived. Instead of sending a reply, an emissary from  the Jewish Central Committee came and took me away by force.  To the  grief and sorrow of Kaczmarek family, they put me in the Otwock Jewish orphanage.

We also went to the church I remembered.  There it was, wide, high, and decorated with gold. I could even recall the bench we set on and prayed.

Pnina with the KazcmareksSierakow, Poland c. 1948

Pnina with the Kazcmareks
Sierakow, Poland c. 1948

At our emotional reunion, Bogdan gave me photographs he took of me before the age of 6. This was the first time I saw myself so young. I had retrieved about four years of my life.

Thinking Rebhun was my biological surname, I began a long and intensive search for my identity. I wrote to people and institutes around the world. I published the story in many papers. Television programs also told my story.

Convinced that my surname was Rebhun, I contacted Rebhuns around the world. Though the BBC, CNN, and the international press featured my quest, I initially received no responses. Finally in March 1997, the Munich Red Cross relayed a reply from a German named Wolfgang Rebhun, who was searching for his little sister, Baschka (Barbara in German).

Part I:   Who Am I, What Is My Name? Pnina, Otwoc, and the Kazcmareks

Part II: Who Am I? What is My Name? Pnina, Wolfgang, and the Warsaw Ghetto

Part III:  Who Am I, What is My Name? Gertrude and Sonia Spyra

Part IV:  Who Am I, What is My Name? Wolfgang & Adele’s Eyewitness Account

Part V:  Who Am I, What is My Name? Gertrude and Sonia’s Escape

Part VI:  Who Am I, What is My Name? Our Search for Gertrude Spiro

Posted in Finding Birth Parents, Historical Identifications, Holocaust Project | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Mascot” – Truth or Fiction

Jewish Online News from Australia and New Zealand
September 15, 2012


I appeal to anyone has further information about Alex Kurzem to please contact me at colleen@identifinders.com.  You can remain anonymous.


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Identifinders International Announces DNA Study for Child Survivors of the Holocaust

Identifinders International, in collaboration with 23andMe and Missing-Identity.net, announces a pilot study to help child survivors of the Holocaust to recover their birth identities.  It is hoped that autosomal DNA testing will allow these survivors to discover family connections that would otherwise be gone forever.

Of the 1,600,000 Jewish children who lived in Europe before World War II, only 100,000 survived the Holocaust. Most child survivors were hidden children, shuttered away in attics, cellars, convents or in villages or farms.[1] Many of these survived thanks to the efforts of Jews and Christians alike who risked their lives to conceal the identity of a hidden child who had been entrusted to their care by desperate parents.

In the chaos that reigned after Europe was liberated, survivors desperately hoped to be reunited with family members. Restoring children to their families was especially difficult –many parents perished in the camps, children were often too young to know their own names, and some children had been moved countless times to keep them safe.

Decades after the Holocaust, there are hundreds of child survivors who have been unable to discover anything about their origins. Adopted family members have died, memories of those who are left have faded.  Documentation has been mined for every clue that could lead to relatives. Many survivors have been unable to even start a search without knowing their family names. Nevertheless, these child survivors have not given up their quest.

In establishing our study, Identifinders International recognizes that autosomal DNA testing is probably the last chance for child survivors to recover their birth identities and reunite with family members. There is potential through autosomal testing, not only to discover relatives who survived the war and who now live scattered in various parts of the world, but also to discover relatives who emigrated from Europe before the war, who have no knowledge of their extended families who were left behind.

The website www.missing-identity.net features about 80 child survivors searching for their identities.  We are testing two of these survivors.  Pnina Gutman was chosen because of her proactive approach to researching her origins;  Bronia Fudali was selected because the circumstances of her separation from her birth mother have precluded any meaningful investigation outside of DNA analysis.

Barbara Wenglinski,
now Pnina Gutman

Pnina Gutman:

As a teenager in Israel,Pnina had fleeting memories of Polish family, Christian holidays, dark wood church pews and a shimmering golden altar. She also recalled living in a children’s institution, and being introduced to her parents as Basia. Though only six years old then, she remembers wondering, “Why must I be introduced to my own parents?”  Read more…

Bronia Fudali

Bronia Fudali:

In June or July 1942 a Jewish woman was either captive or hiding with her baby girl on the train station in Rozwadow in Poland. The
infant was hungry and crying, so her mother asked for milk from a Polish couple who happened to be passing through. The Polish man brought milk for the baby.  Then the Jewish mother asked if they would want to take the baby as their own because she could not keep it.   Read more…

Their stories along with many others appear on the Missing Identity website at www.missing-identity.net

Our program offers autosomal testing accompanied by genealogical research as the last hope for Pnina, Bronia, and countless other Survivors to discover their original identities and to be reunited at last with long lost family members.

Posted in Finding Birth Parents, Holocaust Project | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Mascot

The Mascot

Keith Moor, Insight Editor at the Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne, Victoria recently published an article on The Mascot, the international bestselling biography of Holocaust survivor Alex Kurzem.

To read the article in pdf format, click here.

As Keith mentions, the foundation of the story is undeniably true.  Alex was adopted by the 18th Kurzeme Latvian Police Battalion in July 1942 as a child in the forest around Minsk. Yet my colleague, college professor Dr. Barry Resnick and I have uncovered much that lends doubts to his claims that he was a Jewish boy who survived the Nazi massacre of his family six months earlier; a massacre that in some version of the story was performed by members of the same battalion who adopted him.

Our research over the past two years has spanned Belarus, Latvia, Israel, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States.  After having interviewed dozens of people who both support Alex and who express disbelief at his story, and after having reviewed countless documents relevant to the story, we have found no proof to support Alex’s claims.

There are, however, four key pieces of evidence that could confirm Alex’s story. Unfortunately, they are being withheld by Alex himself:

Alex Kurzem and Erik Galperin who claim they are half-brothers.

1.     A Y-DNA test to compare Alex to Erik Galperin, to support Alex’s identification as Ilya Galperin, Erik’s half-brother.  Without a DNA confirmation that Alex is the son of Solomon Galperin, there is nothing to link him to the Galperin family murdered in Koidanov on October 21, 1941.

Alex has stated he would take such a test only if paid $100,000.

2.    A doctor’s certificate stating that he has been circumcised, supporting his statements that he feared for his life, lest his Jewishness be discovered by unsuspecting members of the Latvian battalion.

Alex has stated he would undergo a medical examination only if paid $50,000.

3.    A copy of his application to the Jewish Claims Conference for which he was required to provide a detailed narrative of his life during the Holocaust.  The Conference accepted his application and has been sending him monthly Article 2 reparations for the last dozen years or so. The Jewish Claims Conference will not release his application without his permission.

Alex has refused its release.

4.    Copies of two video testimonies Alex gave for the Holocaust Center in Melbourne in the late 1990s, recounting his Holocaust experiences before the release of The Mascot documentary and the publication of the book versions of the story.

Alex has refused its release.

Although Alex gives media interviews and lectures to school children about the Holocaust, he has placed an embargo on his testimonies, prohibiting anyone from viewing them in his lifetime without his permission.  What did he say on the videos that he has not already publicly revealed?

Alex Kurzem is the subject of an award-winning documentary that was turned into an international bestselling book, and that is now being produced as a $120M film starting either Sir Anthony Hopkins or Robin Williams as Alex in middle-age.  There is unquestionably millions of dollars exchanging hands in the success promotion of Alex’s story.  Yet as one of the most visible Holocaust survivors in the world, Alex refuses to provide evidence that his story is true.

When approached by people who believe Alex’s claims, we have freely shared our research materials, only to be met with unsupported opinions, work-arounds, and explain-aways about how the materials could not be used to disprove it.

Yet when we have asked these same people to provide documentation confirming the story, we have invariably been denied access.  These include Alex, his publisher Penguin, his literary agent Sterling Literalistic, and Hubert Caillard, the attorney representing the person who bought the movie rights.  The reasons vary.  We have been told “the documents are in the mail” or “I will send them to you when I get back from my trip” or “I don’t have to prove anything” or “I’ll think about it”. No matter.  Nothing has been forthcoming.

Personally, I have no bias for or against Alex’s claims.  I would be delighted if the controversy was indisputably resolved in his favor.  Yet as our research has progressed, we have found ourselves standing between two communities.  One is a community of doubters who have freely offered us whatever they have.  The other is a community of supporters who have refused access to whatever they could provide.

What are we to make of that?

Posted in Historical Identifications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Indianapolis Birth Announcements – Sep 9 & 10, 1948

To continue with the Indianapolis birth announcements, here at the births that appeared in the Indianapolis Commercial on September 9 & 10, 1948.

Newspaper:  Indianapolis Commercial
Date published:

Name of parents                       Child            Date birth     Hosp    Address of parents

Gibbons, James & Nanette                                                           Meth
Duler, George & Dorothy                                                              Meth      (Boy & Girl Twins) Bear, Omar & Mary                                                                       Meth
Lang, William & Georgia                                                                Meth
Morrissey Jr., Joseph & Mary                                                      Meth
Jensen, Robert & Laura                                                                Meth
Riggs, William & Mary                                                                   Meth
Byrne, Ralph & Margaret                                                              Vinc
Cahen, Emerson & Phyllis                                                             Vinc
Morgan Jr., Oliver & Geneva                                                        Vinc
Coble, Levi & Marie                                                                        Vinc
Cullom, William & Virginia                                                             Vinc
Greer Robert & Eleanor                                                                 Vinc
Messmer,  George & Gyda                                                            Vinc
Sterrett, Donald & Martina                                                           Vinc
Wolfe, Clarence & Mary                                                                 Vinc
Maher, Herman & Elizabeth                                                         Vinc
Leach, Russell & Alice                                                                    Vinc
Jordan, William & Elizabeth                                                          Vinc
Eubanks, Donald & Marie                                                              Vinc
Dragoo, Lloyd & Eleanor                                                                Vinc
Doom, James & Martha                                                                 Vinc
Dinwiddie, Robert & Pansy                                                           Vinc
Cooper, Charles & Pauline                                                             Vinc
Bornhorst, Virgil & Helen                                                              Vinc

  Indianapolis Commercial
Date published:

Name of parents                       Child            Date birth     Hosp    Address of parents

Zimmermann, John & Betty                                                        Vinc
Mace, George & Ilene                    Blaine             2 Sept 48       Meth
Foxworthy, James & Mildred                                                      Meth
Wiggins, Lawrence & Ruth                                                           Met
Lincoln, Willie & Elizabeth                                                            At Home    522 1/2 Douglas 

Posted in Benjaman Kyle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Benjaman Kyle – Indianapolis Birth Announcements, Sep 7 & 8, 1948

Here is a continuation of the list of the birth announcements published in the Indianapolis papers around the date of Benjaman Kyle’s birth, believed to be 29 August 1948.

Today’s entry covers 7 Sep through 8 Sep 1948.  There were no announcements on Sep 4 & 5.  The names reported on Sep 6 are the same as those reported on Sep 7, so I have skipped Sep 6.

I have not researched many of these names.  Ideally, I’d like to find as many of the individuals mentioned in these announcements as possible. As I get more information on them, I will update this post.

If you recognize anyone on this list, please contact me at immediately at colleen@identifinders.com

Key (1949 addresses, with current zip codes):

Cole = William H. Coleman Hospital for women, 1000 Michigan St., Indianapolis, 46202
Meth = Methodist Hospital, 1604 N. Capital Ave., Indianapolis, 46202
IGen = Indianapolis General Hospital, 960 Locke St., Indianapolis, 46202
Vinc = St. Vincent’s Hospital, 120 West Fall Creek Pkwy N. Dr., Indianapolis, 46208

Newspaper:  Indianapolis Commercial
Date published:

Name of parents                       Child            Date birth     Hosp    Address of parents

Trotter, Joseph & Lillian                                                               IGen      526 Eugene St.
Bohannan Jr., Hutson & Opal                                                       IGen
Trotter, Keith & Iva                                                                       IGen
Johnson, Samuel & Mary                                                               IGen      942 Parker Ave.
Woods, Lee & Irene                                                                        IGen      1029 N. Traub Ave
Davenport, James & Martha                                                         IGen
Taylor, Theodore & Patricia                                                          IGen      1926 N. Capitol
Pruitt, Vewin & Dorothy                                                                IGen
Polley Jr., Sherman & Jean                                                            IGen     2262 N. Kenwood
Johnson, Henry & Laura                                                                IGen
Johnston, Hisen & Pauline                                                             IGen      2413 N. Capitol Ave.

Newspaper:  Indianapolis Commercial
Date published:

Name of parents                       Child            Date birth     Hosp    Address of parents

Durham, Benjamin & Margaret                                                    Home     101 Sheridan
Woods, George & Irene                                                                 Home      1334 Yandes
Henson, Raymond & Mattie                                                          Home     1516 Bellfontaine
Cline, Charles & Ella                                                                       Home      1069 Wright
Brown, Douglas & Irene                                                                 Home      810 Blake
Dausch, Charles and Louise                                                           Home     1522 Gimber
Wright, Charles & Anna                                                                  Home     2020 Hovey
Reynolds, William & Frances                                                         Home     2134 Arsenal
Batton, Marshall & Drvena [sic]                                                    Home     2214 Howard

Pirtle, Earl & Dora                                                                            IGen      353 Arbor Ave.
Major, Walter & Francis                                                                  IGen
Shirels, Harmus & Betty                                                                  IGen
Cough, Sam & Hildegard                                                                  IGen
Lake, Thomas & Lena                                                                      IGen
Kelley, Kirk & Edna                                                                          IGen
Waithall, John & Geneva                                                                 IGen
Gassett, Marvel & Lucille                                                                IGen
Byrd, Clarence & Blanche                                                                IGen

Hittle, Max & Rosemary                                                                 Vinc
Kingery, Robert & Flora                                                                  Vinc
Essig, Louis & Mildred                                                                     Vinc
Black, Charles & Norma                                                                   Vinc
Lancaster, Merle & Mavis                                                               Vinc
Kelley, Thomas & Sue                                                                      Vinc
Whaley, Herbert & Vivian                                                               Vinc
Percifield, Donald & Nancy                                                              Vinc
Plummer, Harold & Dorothy                                                           Vinc
McClary, John & Sue                                                                        Vinc
Johnson, L. N. H. & Genell                                                               Vinc
Balay, Kenneth & Mary                                                                    Vinc

Mathews, Howard & Carolyn                                                          Meth
Weaver, Albert & Luvada                                                                Meth
Chappell, Heath & Dorothy                                                             Meth
Manier, Robert & Dorothy                                                              Meth
Johnson, Don & Rosie                                                                      Meth
Scaggs, Robert & Dorothy                                                               Meth
Adams, Woodrow & Elizabeth     Gerald W.                                 Meth
Bohr, Richard & Norma                                                                   Meth
Raab, Bervin & Betty                                                                       Meth
Wurtz, Edward & Harriet                                                                Meth
Elsea, Paul & Elizabeth                                                                     Meth
Zartman, Charles & Lois                                                                  Meth
King, Louis & Alma                                                                           Meth
Kemp, Stephen & Joyce                                                                   Meth
Neely, Dwight & Peggy                                                                     Meth
Rushton, Raymond & Martha                                                         Meth
White, Milburn & Dorothy                                                               Meth
Lepper, Jesse & Clara                                                                       Meth
Pierson, Newton & Ruth                                                                   Meth
Robinson, Orval & Blanche                                                               Meth
Munsey, Charles & Helen                                                                 Meth
Eddy, Fred & Madonna                                                                     Meth
Leck, Carl & Ruth                                                                              Meth
Chester, Herman & Victoria                                                             Meth
Hill, Gotha & Evelyn                                                                          Meth

Wheasler, William & Alice                                                                 Cole
Blanckerts, Howard & Barbara                                                        Cole
Colvin, John & Opal                                                                           Cole
Kemp, John & Juanita                                                                       Cole
Power, John & Margaret                                                                   Cole
Snyder, William & Ruth                                                                    Cole
Renner, Donald & Thelma                                                                Cole
Fisher, Patrick & Marguerite                                                          Cole
Kellams, John & Alice                                                                       Cole
Hagen, Robert & Helen                                                                    Cole
McLain, Robert & Margery                                                             Cole
Cunningham, Charles & Rosemary                                                Cole
Sharer, Edward & Dorothy                                                              Cole
Beard, Richard & Nellie                                                                    Cole

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Benjaman Kyle – Indianapolis Birth Announcements – 2 Sep – 3 Sep 1948

Here is a continuation of the list of the birth announcements published in the Indianapolis papers around the date of Benjaman Kyle’s birth, believed to be 29 August 148.

Today’s entry covers 2 Sep through 3 Sep 1948.  I have not researched many of these names.  As I get more information, I will update the list.

If you recognize anyone on this list, please contact me at immediately at colleen@identifinders.com

Key (1949 addresses, with current zip codes):

Cole = William H. Coleman Hospital for women, 1000 Michigan St., Indianapolis, 46202
Meth = Methodist Hospital, 1604 N. Capital Ave., Indianapolis, 46202
IGen = Indianapolis General Hospital, 960 Locke St., Indianapolis, 46202
Vinc = St. Vincent’s Hospital, 120 West Fall Creek Pkwy N. Dr., Indianapolis, 46208

Where I have parentheses around a child’s name, the name is probably correct, but should be confirmed.

Date published: 2-Sep-48

Name of parents                       Child            Date birth     Hosp    Address of parents

Boyd, Charles & Betty                                                                    Home    4252 Ralston
Woolwine, Delbert & Betty                                                            Vinc       1016 S. Rybolt Ave
Scott, James & Ina                        James C.         24-Aug-48      Vinc       239 S. State St.
McDaniel, Cecil & Bertha                                                                Vinc      Tyndall Towne
Shoemaker, Don & Mary                                                                Vinc
Rogers, Leo & Dorothy                                                                   Vinc
Fulmer, Richard & Regina                                                              Vinc
Workinger, Verner Jr. & Josephine                                              Vinc      230 N. Oxford
Baire, Joseph & Katherine                                                              Vinc
Squillace, Frank & Anna               Frank G Jr   1-Aug-48           Vinc    810 Greer St.

Date published: 3-Sep-48

Name of parents                       Child            Date birth     Hosp    Address of parents

Spaulding, William & Helen                                                           Meth
Quarasso, Nicholas & Hattie                                                          Meth
Schabel, Theodore & Connie                                                          Meth
Ward, Jack & Margie                                                                      Meth
Kelley, Howard & Ruth                                                                   Meth
Wease, Paul & Jeannette                                                                Meth
Huddleson, Chris & Dorothy                                                          Meth
Brooks, Edward & Florence                                                           Meth
Houghton, Woodburn & Ruth      James P.       24-Aug-48        Meth    6302 E Washington
Tatom, John & Nina                      James E.       26-Aug-48        Meth
Goldstein, Joseph & Victoria                                                          Meth
Newhouse, George & Mary         (Donald J)     26-Aug-48        Meth    512 E North St.
Peacy, Robert & Marthalyn                                                           Meth
Meese, Robert & Mary                                                                   Meth
Jones, Carlis & Mary                                                                       Meth
Hefner, Harold & Marcea             Harold W Jr 24-Aug48          Meth    1921 N Centennial
Butcher, Kenneth & Wilma                                                            Meth
Hostetler, John & Iva                                                                     Meth

There were no birth announcements for Sept 4-5.  The next lists will be for Sept 6-7, 1948.

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