An article in a London newspaper has led to an emotional reunion of Holocaust survivors at a Prague Jewish community center.
The gathering earlier this month was initiated by Czech-born Israeli resident Hana Greenfield, who wrote an article about a late cousin for the London-based Jewish Chronicle nearly two years ago.
In the article, “Another Victim,” Greenfield shared her fond personal memories of cousin Richard Goldschmid, one of the heroes of the 1943 Treblinka uprising, who took his own life in 1997.
Soon after it was published, she heard from a man in England named Felix Morel, who told her that Goldschmid was also his relative.
To her astonishment, she learned that she had another relative in Prague named Karel Zimmerman.
As it turned out, Greenfield, Morel and Zimmerman were related by three grandmothers who were sisters.
On Sept. 8 in the Czech capital, they met as a group for the first time to share their childhood memories and learn how each had fared during the war.
It was a double family celebration because the occasion also marked Morel’s 70th birthday.
“I cannot describe my feelings,” Morel said after. “Most of my family went into the gas chambers, so to find some people who I did not realize existed had a very emotional effect on me.
“It was marvelous to discover suddenly that you have relatives you never knew you had. To me it was just a joy to meet someone from my family.”
Greenfield, who now lives in Tel Aviv, also found it difficult to express her feelings about the reunion.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “Suddenly you are not alone in the world. We passed around family photographs and got to know about the history of the family.”
Her sister Irene, 77, who spent the war years in the Terezin transit camp and now lives in Prague, echoed her sentiments.
“It was very moving, of course, to meet family that I didn’t know.”
Each had very different war experiences.
Morel was sent to Britain in 1939 when he was 8 years old. His mother returned to Czechoslovakia just before Hitler invaded the country and ended up in the Lodz Ghetto for the rest of the war.
She miraculously survived, but Morel spent the entire war not knowing whether his mother was alive or dead.
He later settled in England.
Hana Greenfield, whose family lived in the Czech town of Kolin, about 30 miles east of Prague, was 12 at the start of the war.
She was forced to work in a soap powder factory before being sent to Terezin, also known by its German name of Theresienstadt, in 1942. One of her closest brushes with death came when her transport train was selected for retribution following the assassination of Hitler’s chief in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich.
“The Germans were very exact in their task and the order was to kill 1,000 Jews in our transport to Terezin. There were 1,050 people, so when we arrived 50 were given their luggage and allowed to get off. They included me, my mother and my sister.
“No one knows where the others went, but they were certainly killed,” she said.
Greenfield spent two years at Terezin with Irene before she was transported to Auschwitz.
After six weeks there, she was moved to Hamburg, Germany, to work as a slave laborer. She was later to spend the last days of the war at Bergen-Belsen.
The final and youngest – member of the reunion party was Zimmerman, now a renowned mathematics professor based in Prague.
As a baby, he was removed from the clutches of the Nazis by being sent to live with his paternal grandmother, who was not Jewish.
Hana Greenfield, who has sold 50,000 copies of her Holocaust memoir “Fragments of Memory,” summed up why the reunion was so important to her.
“For me, the Holocaust isn’t just about the 6 million who died. It is about the havoc caused in so many lives.”