Joseph Anuszewicz (second from left) receives the Cross of Valor for his service in World War II, August 1945.
Joseph Anuszewicz (second from left) receives the Cross of Valor for his service in World War II, August 1945.

In Warsaw, I encountered a relative I never knew existed

After Grandma Regina died, I stood over her grave in Los Angeles, my belly swollen with my son Joshua. Twenty-one years later, in 1992, Joshua and I visited Warsaw, Regina’s birthplace. What a gift, us wandering around the city together, seeing the Museum of Warsaw and the Jewish Historical Institute.

Walking next to Josh, a 6-foot college boy, made me feel as short as Grandma had been. Grandma Regina Anuszewicz Bloom, 5-foot-1, had come to the United States in 1910, then lost all her relatives remaining in Poland to the Holocaust. Though I was able to visit her grave, visiting her lost relatives was as stolen from her.

We sauntered down another street. Josh stopped and dug into his backpack.

“Hey,” he said, “I have this note from your mom. It has the names and addresses of some relatives she thinks live in Warsaw. She said she found it in her mother’s stuff after she died.”

Josh added he’d put it in his address book and really hadn’t thought much about it.

I laughed. “Josh, no one is left of her family. She always said the Nazis killed everyone.”

The next morning, we asked the hotel concierge if she was able to match a phone number; she called it, but there was no answer.

I let out a sigh of disappointment but wasn’t surprised. We set out for our day of sightseeing. When we returned to the hotel, I stopped by the desk again and Josh went up to our room. The concierge called again.

This time, someone answered and identified himself as Joseph Anuszewicz. Even though I was skeptical, my heartbeat quickened. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I couldn’t help it.

Anxiously, I asked the concierge to ask Joseph if he was related to a woman by the name of Regina Anuszewicz Bloom. Did that name mean anything to him?


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The concierge conversed with Joseph in Polish, and us in English, and back again. “He says yes,” the concierge replied.

“Does he speak Russian? My son speaks Russian.”

“Yes.”

“Could we go visit him?” I said.

“No. Stay here at the hotel. He will come to see you.”

The concierge called our room. “The man is here. He says to have your son come down with you.”

I held my breath all the way down in the elevator. When the doors opened to the lobby, people were milling about. An elderly man stood by a wall, watching people step into the lobby. I scanned the crowd, unsure who I was looking for. After the crowd thinned, my eyes fell on one person … someone I would have recognized anywhere. He had Grandma’s blue eyes, stocky frame and quizzical expression. It was clear he belonged in my family.

I smiled, and he just looked back at me.

I approached him and said, “Are you Joseph?”

He didn’t answer. He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a small photograph. He pointed to the picture and then looked at me.

I pulled Josh close to translate.

The photo he held had been taken at my cousin’s wedding many years earlier when my grandma was still alive. Apparently, she, or someone, had mailed the photo to him. I pointed to each person in the picture. “That’s Regina, that’s my Aunt Jo, Aunt Rose, Uncle Louis and my mother, all Regina’s children. That’s me and my brother.” I continued to identify everyone in the family photograph.

Tears dripped down my face. Joseph’s eyes were wet, too.

Joseph had his arm around Josh and spoke to him in Russian.

“What happened to Regina?” Joseph asked. “The letters stopped 20 years ago. We kept writing, but heard nothing back.”

I learned that Joseph and his younger brother, Januz, were my mother’s first cousins, the sons of one of Regina’s brothers and the only survivors of her entire family. Some siblings and relatives fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and died there and others died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Joseph told us he had survived the war by joining the Polish army formed in the Soviet Union, which was armed by the Russians and fought alongside the Red Army. He was proud of his service, and even showed us his old uniform. Januz, at age 12, had gone high up into the Ural Mountains and worked in a mine.

Josh raised his eyebrows. A grin spread across his face. He was as amazed as I was about Joseph — our Polish relative and a Holocaust survivor.

Thank God Josh had kept note with the addresses and phone numbers.

Regina was stocky with dark brown hair and blue eyes and an agitated personality. She had a stranglehold over her children once they were around her. They had grown up at a Jewish orphanage, Vista Del Mar in Los Angeles, after grandpa abandoned her and the children, and she didn’t make enough money to care for them — at the time, a not uncommon experience for many immigrant families.

Josh’s connections to his Polish Jewish roots were now a concrete reality for him. It seemed normal to me to have a European grandmother to identify my lineage. But Joshua’s grandmother, my mother, was a modern woman with a career. My grandma Regina made matzah balls from scratch and her own horseradish. My mother bought Manischewitz matzah balls and horseradish from the store.

“It was amazing,” Josh said after we returned home. “At the moment I think it was a blur. But once it was clear what had happened, and how haphazard and unplanned and really unlikely it was, [that’s what] I think made it really incredible.”

While finding these relatives was a gift for me, the real gift came from Josh’s appreciation of his lineage and his sense of being proud of his heritage.

Another generation that was touched by the Holocaust.

It’s a family I never knew I had.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Geri Spieler
Geri Spieler

Geri Spieler is a Palo Alto-based author, journalist and former research director for Gartner. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.