Convinced he had no kin, survivor finds a lost cousin

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"It's a miracle," says the Dutch-born Wynschenk.

The miracle unfolded quickly. In early October, Wynschenk's daughter-in-law visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Scrolling through the computerized registry of survivors under the surname Wynschenk, she found her father-in-law's name and one other Wynschenk from Amsterdam — Sophia.

Eddy Wynschenk had a younger sister named Sophia, but he had seen records confirming her death in Auschwitz on January 31, 1944. But he also had a cousin Sophia, and something told him the name in the museum's database was hers.

"I thought right away that [it] had to be her," says the 68-year-old Auschwitz survivor. "I had a gut feeling."

Late last month — after Wynschenk requested that the museum contact Sophia Wynschenk for him — a long-distance call from Warren, Mich., confirmed his suspicion.

"She said, `Eddy, I received that letter and when I read it, I got goose pimples,'" Wynschenk says. "When she talked to me, I went numb."

Not too numb, however, to tell Sophia all he recalled about her.

Sophia's father, Arie, was Wynschenk's favorite uncle, a wholesale fruit dealer. The family had lived on an Amsterdam street called Ijsel; the house number was either six or eight. She had a mother named Marie, a brother Jacob and a sister Kitty.

Kitty got married shortly before the war in a hotel called the Carlton.

"I was so surprised that he remembered all that, " says Sophia, 74, whose married name is Monas. "Most of it I don't remember."

In fact, she barely remembered her cousin Eddy, who is six years younger than she and whose family lived rather far from hers, in another district of Amsterdam.

Monas' hazy memories haven't diminished the joy of finding a lost relative. "It is a miracle," she says.

As a young woman, Monas survived several concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen. Like Eddy Wynschenk, she lost her entire family to the Nazis.

From time to time over the years, she has heard miraculous stories in which Holocaust survivors find each other after years apart. But she never imagined she would receive such a gift.

"I said to my husband, `That never will happen to me,'" she recalls.

"I still cannot believe it. I still cannot believe I have a real cousin."

In the waning weeks of the war, Eddy was among the thousands of Auschwitz prisoners whom the Nazis ousted from the camp as Allied liberators drew closer. The prisoners began a forced trek westward on what would later became known as a death march.

After three days of trudging through freezing mud and another 10 days jammed alongside many others in an open convoy, the teenage Wynschenk watched his toes turn black from gangrene. A nurse amputated the toes with a pair of scissors to save Wynschenk's life.

The constant, severe swelling that has resulted from the lack of circulation in Wynschenk's feet has imposed limitations on his life. For example, he can only travel in the first-class sections of airplanes, as only first-class seats offer ample room for him to elevate his feet.

He cannot afford a first-class ticket to Michigan right now. Monas says the pair hope to meet in the spring.

For now, Wynschenk and his cousin are exchanging phone calls, photos and a burning desire to meet in person after 50 years. Wynschenk says Monas and her husband Maurice "are so hungry" to meet him and his wife; and "I'm very hungry to meet them."

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum registry that brought the pair together contains some 100,000 survivors' names, as well as those of the survivors' children and grandchildren. The registry also lists where the survivors lived when the war broke out, and how they spent the war years. Most of the individuals listed reside in North America.

Despite such a detailed database, the sort of reunion Wynschenk and Monas are now enjoying is rare, according to Sarah Ogilvie, the museum's deputy director of registry.

"I can only think of two other [such cases] since the museum opened in 1993 that we know about, " she says.

In one case, a survivor who has lived in Warsaw, Poland since the war's end discovered he has a cousin on the East Coast of the United States. In another case, which resembles Wynschenk's, a survivor in California discovered a first cousin living in the New York area.

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.