War separates families, but the Web can reunite

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, many people will reconnect with family and friends in order to find out how life has treated them over the past year and wish them the best for the next. But sometimes finding a long-lost friend or relative can be extremely difficult. And that's where the Internet can help.

Can anyone tell me my real name? Who was my mother? Do I have any brothers or sisters? Those are some of the heartbreaking questions you'll find on the Missing Identity section on JewishGen.org The site was created to help children who survived the Holocaust locate information about their past. Reading their stories is like exploring fragments of memories that lodged in a child's mind over a half century ago.

Natala remembers that she "was brought to the Polish Orphanage in Orunia near Gdansk… .She remembers soldiers searching their home… .One day the children on the street called her 'dirty Jew.' Natala ran home, wanting her parents to tell her why the children did this and to get an explanation what a Jew is. The parents told her she was not their real daughter and that her name was Natala." She was brought to France in 1947 and Israel in 1948. And she is still looking for her past. Natala's story captivates further because the Web site has a childhood photograph of her and another of her as an adult at www.jewishgen.org/missing


The person I came across most often credited for reuniting Jewish families is Batya Unterschatz. For almost 30 years, Unterschatz headed (and was the entire staff of) the Jewish Agency for Israel's "Search Bureau for Missing Relatives Department." You can read more about her at www.tiigrs. org/hadassaArticle.htm

What is incredible is that even after all these years, some people are successful in their searches. Pnina Modlin was born as Pola Mishures in Belarus in 1937. She spent the war years in various Russian orphanages after losing touch with her family. Thanks to the dedicated research by her husband, Pnina was able to reunite with her brother 58 years after they were separated. You can read about the story of their reunion and the critical part played by the Internet at www.jewishgen.org/ missing-identity/p-pola.html]

The story of Modlin has a bittersweet footnote. Modlin died earlier this year on March 22. "She is mourned by her husband Kelly, their three sons, their two daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren and other family members and friends." The Web site continues, "far away in Orsk in the Ural mountains, she is deeply grieved by her brother Avram and his family — the brother she only was reunited with in 1999."

The writer is a Toronto-based television producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at

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