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

Gertrude Spyra and Charlotte Rebhun, Warsaw, about 1942

Gertrude Spyra and Charlotte Rebhun, Warsaw, about 1942

A mystery within the mystery of Pnina’s identity is the fate of Gertrude Spyra and her daughter Sonia. As the parties responsible for smuggling Pnina from the Warsaw Ghetto, Gertrude and Sonia may have left behind clues about Pnina’s parents. Perhaps the Spyras wrote letters to their family members, as did their friend Charlotte Rebhun. Perhaps a co-worker overheard something they said about how they saved a baby during the last days before the Ghetto Uprising.

According to “the story”, Pnina’s parents approached a German soldier about smuggling their daughter out of the Warsaw Ghetto in late 1942-early 1943.  The soldier was the sweetheart of Sonia Spyra, Gertrude’s daughter.  The story relates that Gertrude was already hiding Jews, and that she did not have the resources to help anyone else, so she asked her friend Charlotte Rebun if she could take the baby in as her own.  Gertrude and Charlotte were Christian women who had been married to Jewish husbands. Both couples had been deported to Warsaw, the Rebhuns from Berlin, and the Spyras presumably from somewhere in Germany. Both husbands were arrested or “disappeared” in the early 1940s.  Charlotte agreed to take in the child, and sometime later Pnina was delivered to her apartment in a white baby carriage with a note indicating her name was Barbara Wenglinski.

Over the last year, we have discovered much about Gertrude Spyra and Pnina’s parents that has answered some questions. But so many others have been raised.


Missing Identity Homepage

Our team of researchers now includes Pnina Gutman, Eva Floresheim, owner of the www.missing-identity.net website, myself, and two new members:

Cate Bloomquist – Forensic genealogist, colleague, and friend whom I have known through my Forensic Genealogy website and Facebook page, and

Hania Allen – Researcher and friend of Polish background living in Scotland. After the war, Hania’s parents immigrated to Scotland, where she was born.  I became friends with Hania when I helped her find long lost cousins George and Betty, whose family had gone to America before the War.


Our much-needed breakthrough came when Cate discovered Gertrude and Sonia Preiss- Spiro on a transport from Pawiak Prison in Warsaw to Auschwitz on 24 August 1943.  This was just a few months after the Ghetto had been destroyed during the Uprising in April and May of that year.  Approximately 100,000 men and 200,000 women passed through the prison, mostly members of the Armia Krajowa (the Polish resistance movement), political prisoners, and civilians taken as hostages in street round-ups.  An estimated 37,000 were executed and 60,000 sent to German death and concentration camps.

According to the list found on the prison’s website www.stankiewicze.com/pawiak/

Name                                                               Date                                            Prisoner Nos.
Piss-Spiro (Preiss-Spiro), Gertrude             24-8-1943                                  55778-55918
Piss-Spiro (Preiss-Spiro), Sonia                    24-8-1943                                  55778-55918


In Danuta Czech’s Auschwitz Chronicles, there is a mention of the transport arriving at Auschwitz the next day, 25-8-1943.  There is no mention of prisoners dying during transport, or a selection upon arrival, giving us hope that Gertrude and Sonia arrived alive and may have survived, at least for a while.

Gertrude’s name was recorded as both Piss-Spiro and Preiss-Spiro.  We have concluded that the name was probably Preiss-Spiro, with Preiss being the German part of her name, and Spiro being the Jewish part. There is still a question about why her name was hyphenated and which name was her married name and which was her maiden name.

Cate’s initial discovery led us to many others that have allowed us to fill in more of the story of Gertrude Preiss-Spiro. The General Government Telephone Directories for Poland from 1941 and 1942 list Gertrude Spiro, Verk. v. Spirit. und Zigaretten (liquor and cigarette saleswoman), with her shop located at 2 Nowinarska St.,  and her residence in 1942 listed as 48 Tamka St, Warsaw.  This is the address that Pnina remembers for “her” Gertrude Spiro.

Researching other Polish directories has led us to further revelations.  In the 1938 Polish Companies, Industry, and Trade, Cate discovered a Gertruda Spyra who was a partner in Poniecki, Meisner & Co., a wine and spirits manufacturing company in Chorzów near Katowice in southeast Poland.  This must certainly be the same Gertrud, as the chances are slim that there were two different women with the same name (although with different spellings), who were both in wine and liquor sales.


Poniecki, Meisner & Co. Poster, c 1935

A further clue is provided by the 1934 and 1936 directories, where the partner in the Poniecki company is listed as Dr. Jan Spyra, also listed as a medical doctor residing at 4th of May St. No. 3.  The change in the name of the town from Krolewska Huta in 1934 to Chorzów in 1936 occurred as a result of one of several political reorganizations of the area between the early 1920s and the mid-1940s.   

Following several uprisings, the eastern part of Silesia, including Chorzów and Królewska Huta, was separated from Germany and awarded to Poland in 1922. In 1934 the industrial communities of Chorzów, Królewska Huta and Nowe Hajduki were merged into one municipality with 81,000 inhabitants. The name of the oldest settlement Chorzów  was given to the whole city.  On the day of the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Chorzów was annexed by Nazi Germany and promptly re-incorporated into German Silesia.  At the end of World War II, Chorzów, along with the rest of Silesia, was re-incorporated into Poland. 

The change in hands of Chorzów between Poland and Germany could account for much more than the change in name of the town. It could also explain why the Rebhuns referred to Gertrude as German, and why she apparently left Chorzów for Warsaw in 1939-1940. Beginning in October 1939, as part of their “Germanization” plan, the SS began to expel Poles and Jews from the Polish Corridor (including Chorzów).  If Gertrude’s husband was Jewish, he may have been deported to Warsaw, which was a part of the General Government district, and she would have undoubtedly accompanied him. Although he was apparently taken away or disappeared not too long after they arrived there, Gertrude may have been allowed to remain and to live on the Aryan side of town because of her German heritage. 

So who was Dr. Jan Spyra?

According to the Polish medical directories from the 1920s and 1930s, Jan Spyra was a medical doctor born in 1869, who received his medical degree in 1896.  He appeared in the city directories as early as 1906, when he was listed as Hans Spyra, the town was known as Königshütte, and 4th May St. was called Kronprinzen St.:

Koenigshutte 1906_07


          1906/1907 through 1913
          Spyra, Dr. Hans, Arzt (doctor),                        Kronprinzenstr. 4, tel #1095

Jan Spyra’s obituary appeared in the Polonia newspaper, 22 July 1934, p. 6. Roughly translated, it reads:

Polonia 24 July 1934 - Jan Spyra Death NoticeIn Chorzów died on 22 July 1934, a member of the local medical community, Jan Spyra, doctor, physician of Chorzów.  The medical community of Chorzów has lost a diligent employee and a good doctor.  May he rest in peace!  Chorzów, 22 July 1934

Gertrude is subsequently listed in the 1938 Polish Directory (excluding Warsaw) as Gertrude Spirowa, wdowa po lekarzu, (widow of a doctor), Mikolow, Jamny 13.  Note the name Spirowa is a variation on the name Spiro that indicates a widow.

1938_Poland_Dir._(excl._Warsaw)_-_- Spyras - d756 - Gertrude is Listed as a Widow Cropped

Dr. Jan’s death in 1935 explains why his widow Gertruda assumed his position as a partner in the liquor company in late 1935-early 1936.  If she is “our” Gertrude Spiro, she married a man who was much older than she was, who died before she left for Warsaw in about 1940.  Other possibilities are that the Gertrude listed with the liquor company was the mother or the mother-in-law of the Gertrude who had the liquor and tobacco shop in Warsaw.  It is hard to believe that there could be two unrelated Gertrude Spyras in the liquor business at the same time. 

The directories also provide information on other members of the Spyra family. Herman Lotar Spyra first appears in the 1936 Polish Medical Yearbook listed twice – once in Myslowice (another name for Mikolow) near Katowice, and a second time with an office at the address on 4th May St. in Chorzów  He was born in 1905, and received his medical degree in 1932:

1936 Directory of Doctors, Herman Lotar Spyra, (1905, 1932), og., ul. 3 Maja 4, tel. 411-01

1936 Polish Medical Yearbook
Spyra, Herman Lotar (1905-1932) og., ul. 3 Maya 4, tel 410-95 

Note that the last four digits of Herman Lotar’s telephone number are the same as Dr. Jan’s.  Undoubtedly, he worked as his father’s assistant until his father died in 1935, at which time he took over his practice.

Two other Jan Spyras with medical backgrounds appear in various directories:

– Jan Spyra, b 1906, received his degree in dentistry in 1934; his office was located at 3 Kopernika St., Katowice, and

– Jan Albin Spyra, b 1907, received his degree in medicine on 19 Mar 1937; his office was located in Bielszowice, Katowice.

We have not been able to link these two Jans to Gertrude’s family, although we believe they may be related.


While we are researching the fate of Gertrude and her daughter Sonia after they arrived at Auschwitz, we have discovered what happened to Herman Lotar Spyra, giving us hope that we will be able to locate surviving Spyra family members.

Lotar Spyra m Maria Focjik in late 1947

Lotar Spyra m Maria Focjik in late 1947

Their daughter Gloria was born in late 1947.

Their daughter Gloria was born in late 1947.

After the war, Lotar moved to the UK, where he married Maria Focjik in late 1946 in Romsey, Hampshire, England. They had a daughter Gloria, born in mid-1947.

Three months later, the family were listed on the passenger manifest for the ship Empire Bure, sailing from Liverpool to Tobago, with an ultimate destination of British Guyana.  There were quite a few Polish refugees on board the vessel who were sent out by the British War Office, but the Spyras seem to have been traveling separately from the group.  It is doubtful that they traveled on the ship, since their names are struck through and they appear two weeks later on November 15, 1947, on the passenger manifest for the Almanzora, traveling from Southampton to Bermuda via Jamaica and Trinidad.   Their ultimate destination was again listed as British Guyana.

Whether the family arrived in British Guyana or whether they disembarked in Tobago and sailed for another destination is not known.  They do not appear in the passenger arrivals for New York.  The last known record of Lotar, Maria, and Gloria is a US Department of Justice notice stating that the family was detained and deported from the US on 2 January 1951. They departed from New York on Pan American Flight 2o5 bound for Georgetown, British Guyana via Puerto Rico.

Lotar, Maria, and Gloria, Spyra dep'd to Georgetown after being detained in NY, 2 Jan 1951We have contacted the Guyana Archives in Georgetown, hoping there may be records of what happened to the Spyra family. Perhaps Gloria is still alive and she can relate to us what she was told about her aunt(?) Gertrud Spyra.  Perhaps she has letters that she has kept for decades as a remembrance of her family who were killed in the war. I’ve also written posts on the Guyana Then and Now blog that is popular among English-speaking people who grew up there, and who might remember a middle-aged Polish doctor with his young Polish wife and daughter.  Perhaps someone on the blog went to school with little Gloria.  But so far, no one has responded to my queries and nothing more is known about the whereabouts of Dr. Lotar Spyra and his family.


Perhaps the most important clue to how Pnina was smuggled from the Ghetto is quietly hidden in all the facts we have unearthed in our pursuit of the fate of Gertrude Spyra.

There is a significance of alcohol and tobacco in war time.  They are the primary currency of the Black Market.

Our search for the fate of Gertrude Spyra and her daughter Sonia has led us from Warsaw to Chorzów, to the UK, to New York, and finally to British Guyana via San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We must now return to where we started in the Warsaw Ghetto.

To be continued…

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

Part VII:  Who Am I? What is My Name? Gertrude’s Other Children?

Part VIII:  Who Am I?  What is My Name?  Gertrud and Leo’s Trial

Part IX:  Who Am I? What is My Name? Gertrude’s Sisters!

Part X:  Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part X – Gertrude’s Marriage and Divorce

Part XI:  Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part XI – Berlin, Warsaw, and the German Soldier

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

Barbara Rebhun?

Barbara Rebhun?

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).

After receiving the Red Cross letter I began a correspondence with Wolfgang Rebhun. Then after a very short time we went to Germany, to meet Wolfgang and his (and my) sister Adela and some other members of the family.

The meeting was very warm and exciting. To them it was a miracle to find their baby sister – “our little Bacshka” as they called me.

Wolfgang and Adela told me more of my history.

Just before the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Wolfgang recalled, a young Jewish couple, possibly freedom fighters, had convinced a German soldier to smuggle their daughter out of the ghetto. The nine-month-old had arrived in a white baby carriage, with a note draped around her neck reading Barbara Wenglinski. The soldier’s girlfriend, Sonia Spyra, passed the baby on to Charlotta Rebhun, Wolfgang’s mother, to be hidden in the Arian part of Warsaw.

Charlotta was a Christian woman married to a Jewish man named Max Rebhun. They lived in Berlin and were expelled after Krystalnacht. Charlotta had two children: Wolfgang, 17 and Adela, 14. I lived with Carlotta and her children as their baby.

In September 1944, during a Polish uprising, Charlotta, her children, and I were separated by force – Charlotta and Adela were sent to a labor camp, Wolfgang was sent to Mathausen, and I was left at the railway station. At this time Charlotta’s Jewish husband had already been killed in Treblinka. At the end of the war, Charlotta went back to Berlin and was shot by the SS.  Adela was wounded.

I had retrieved two more years of my life.

Charlotte Rebhun and Pnina

Charlotta Rebhun and Pnina
Warsaw c 1942

Then Wolfgang offered me two priceless gifts. The first was a photograph of Baby Baschka in Mama “Lotta’s” loving arms. The second was my parents’ parting words. “If we do not return, contact our relatives in America.” For the first time, I had met someone who could describe my parents. But only Charlotta, who had been killed in 1945, had known their names.

I’m in touch with both families. Charlotta and the Kazcmareks have been named as Righteous Among the Nations.

Charlotte Rebhun and the White Baby Carriage

Charlotta Rebhun and Pnina
Warsaw c 1942

Following a special Israeli Television series about Holocaust children with missing identities, I joined Missing Identity at www.missing-identity.net. This site seeks information about children who were hidden during the Holocaust in orphanages or monasteries, with friends or strangers, who survived ghettoes, concentration camps, or on their own, who lost not only their entire families, but also their original identities. Guided by Missing Identity researcher Eva Floersheim, I began exploring a variety of online sources.

Pnina with Wolfgang

Wolfgang Rebhun and baby Baschka
Warsaw c 1946
We found the fountain.
It was not destroyed during the war.

First we sought more information about my parents. Because Jews from a very wide area were herded into the Warsaw Ghetto, however, it was impossible to guess their origins. In addition, without knowing their names, there was no way to search ancestry.com, familysearch.org, or any other surname-based genealogical Internet sites

Nor was it possible to search The Central Database of Shoah (Holocaust) Victims’ Names, the world’s single largest computerized database of Holocaust victims, located at http://www.yadvashem.org . Even my request to the International Tracing Service (ITS), an organization that documents the fate of victims of Nazi persecution, proved disappointing. Regarding my mother, for example, they replied, “In order for us to be able to make a check of our records …. we need her name and first name as well as her exact place of birth.”

In lieu of hard facts, I also wondered about other possibilities. If the German soldier had married his sweetheart Sonia Spyra and they were still alive, might either remember my parents’ names? Might one of the few Warsaw Ghetto survivors remember the handsome young couple with the baby daughter? To find out, I not only met with survivors personally, but also pored over their testimonies, memoirs, photographs, documents, and memorial volumes both at the Yad Vashem Library and at Israel’s Ghetto Fighter’s Museum.

All these efforts have been in vain.

In 2009, I discovered that Charlotte Rebhun’s brother who was living in the US, had saved letters she had written to him during the 1940s. However, they didn’t describe Charlotta’s courageous wartime activities, or mention Sonia Spyra, a German soldier, a Jewish couple, or a baby.

On the chance that my birth name was actually Barbara Wenglinski, I also explored the massive Jewish Records Indexing- Poland (JRI Poland) database hosted by www.jewishgen.org  that contains microfilmed Latter Day Saints, Polish State Archives, and census records, military and passport lists, cemetery files, and legal announcements. There I came across a Polish man named Wenglinski whose young daughters had disappeared at the beginning of the war. Did he will their identity papers to Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto? Is this how I became Barbara Wenglinski?


Pnina and Her Daughters

I have hopes centered on the photos I have found, especially those given to me by Wolfgang – showing me as a baby with his mother and the white wooden marriage that I was brought to her in. My parents said they had relatives in the U.S.A. It might be they sent this photo to them. Maybe one of those relatives has this photo, or maybe one of the Ghetto survivors will recognize the baby.

Believe me, this long story I have told you is much lengthier and exciting. There are so many coincidences, “miracles” as I call them,that it’s hard to believe. My life seems much more like a science fiction movie.

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

Part VII:  Who Am I? What is My Name? Gertrude’s Other Children?

Part VIII:  Who Am I?  What is My Name?  Gertrud and Leo’s Trial

Part IX:  Who Am I? What is My Name? Gertrude’s Sisters!

Part X:  Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part X – Gertrude’s Marriage and Divorce

Part XI:  Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part XI – Berlin, Warsaw, and the German Soldier

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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

Part VII:  Who Am I? What is My Name? Gertrude’s Other Children?

Part VIII:  What Am I?  What is My Name? Gertrud and Leo’s Trial

Part IX:  Who Am I? What is My Name? Gertrude’s Sisters!

Part X:  Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part X – Gertrude’s Marriage and Divorce

Part XI:  Who Am I? What is My Name? – Part XI – Berlin, Warsaw, and the German Soldier

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“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.

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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?

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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 

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