Holocaust Survivor to Share her Story During Red Cross Event

Holocaust Survivor to Share her Story During Red Cross Event

Estelle Nadel was only 10 years old when she and her brother escaped Nazi captivity through a tiny window in their jail cell. For the next two years, she hid in a Polish attic, later coming to the United States in 1947. By the time she arrived in the United States at the age of 15, her mother, father, older brother and older sister had all been killed in the Holocaust. For Estelle, surviving the Holocaust was a matter of faith. Speaking about her experiences is a matter of truth. And, in her spare time, expressing herself through song is a matter of personal escape. 

Although Nadel now speaks publicly about her experience in the Holocaust, she kept her stories to herself for decades after leaving Poland. It took the request of a daughter-in-law, a teacher, to break her silence and speak to a class full of strangers about her experience. Since then, she has spoken to countless audiences about the Holocaust. But for Nadel, the speaking never gets easier. 

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Twins Reconnected by Red Cross Reunite in Poland

Twin brothers, George Skrzynecky and Lucjan Poznanski, were separated shortly after birth following World War II. After nearly seven decades, the Red Cross was able to reconnect them. Then, late this summer, they were able to reunite in Poland. Their story highlights how easily families are separated by crisis, the pain caused by this separation, and the relief and joy experienced when reconnection occurs. In the video below, George and Lucjan meet for the first time in 68 years.

For more information on the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

The Power of Friendship and Reconnection

Story by Elizabeth Shemaria, Bay Area Chapter, Communications Specialist

In this week's highlight of the Red Cross Red Crescent principle of Impartiality, we wrote about the broad definition of family used in our reconnecting families work in order to ensure that everyone, regardless of who they hold dear, has the opportunity to reconnect following conflict, disaster, and migration. We've posted this before, but no story may highlight this better than the reconnection of Gunter Ullmann with Elfriede Hubner. They were childhood friends in Germany when they were separated by World War II. Read about Impartiality in practice.

When Gunter Ullmann fled Nazi Germany for Shanghai almost 75 years ago, he thought it was the last time he would see his childhood friend Elfriede Hubner.

With help from the Red Cross, Ullmann, a 64-year San Francisco resident and Hubner, who lives in Schwabisch Hall, a little more than one hour’s drive from where the two grew up, recently had a chance to share a lifetime worth of memories and meet each other’s extended families in Germany.

Ullmann and Hubner embrace after almost 75 years of separation.

Ullmann and Hubner embrace after almost 75 years of separation.

“Today is the day,” said Gunter on Mother’s Day 2012, with his passport peeking out of his shirt pocket as he waited at the airport with his wife Isle and their son Peter, to board a flight to Frankfurt. “It is happening. We’ll get to know each other again, and see what the future will bring.”

The Ullmann’s carried with them photos and stories to share with Hubner and her family, including photos of Gunter’s brother Walter who died last year and was also friends with Hubner.

The reunion, which has been 10 years in the making, started with a tracing request from Hubner’s son-in-law, George Finley, at a Massachusetts Red Cross office.

Ullmann’s family, who is Jewish, fled Mannheim, Germany in 1938 for Shanghai (one of the few places which allowed immigrants without visas at the time) when he was 14. Ullmann says his father took the family’s savings and bought one-way boat passages after “Kristallnacht,” the Night of Broken Glass, a series of attacks against Jews throughout Germany and Austria on November 9 and 10, 1938.

In 1948, the family then moved from Shanghai to San Francisco, where Ullmann worked as a mechanic, restaurant owner, and, for the last 15 years, as a volunteer tour guide at the San Francisco visitor information center in Union Square.

Ullmann, Hubner, and their families spend several days talking about their childhoods and the lives they have led since separated during World War II.

Ullmann, Hubner, and their families spend several days talking about their childhoods and the lives they have led since separated during World War II.

Hubner’s family, who is Christian, stayed in the apartment building where the two families lived and Hubner later moved to Schwabisch Hall.

The friends and Gunter’s brother, Walter, were first connected by phone and email in 2008 with help from the Red Cross San Francisco office and San Francisco Bay Area volunteer, Craig Knudsen.

The friends often talked about meeting, but family illnesses, distance and life circumstances made it difficult to meet. When Walter died last year, the friends decided it was time.

Although nearly 75 years had passed, Gunter Ullmann and Elfriede Hubner “caught up right where they left off,” wrote Peter Ullmann, in his account of the first day of the visit.

The childhood friends and their families took walks, ate meals together, visited museums, met with the mayor in the town where they grew up and shared memories.

“It gives you a good feeling to have a positive thing like this happen to you in old age,” said Gunter Ullmann before leaving for Germany. “It’s really tremendous what the Red Cross has done.”

For more on the reunion between Gunter Ullmann and Elfriede Hubner, watch the following video:

A Visit from Documentary Producer of "Into The Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport"

Award-Winning Documentary Producer Deborah Oppenheimer (second from right) with International Services Team from the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region

Award-Winning Documentary Producer Deborah Oppenheimer (second from right) with International Services Team from the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region

In her acceptance speech during the 73rd Academy Awards, Deborah Oppenheimer praised Kindertransport survivors for their “honesty, eloquence and humanity.”  Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris won the Documentary (Feature) Category for Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport.

Oppenheimer, whose successful producer/screenwriter television credits include “Family Ties,” “George Lopez, and the “Drew Carey Show” was at the West Los Angeles headquarters of the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region last month for a private screening of the award-winning documentary.

Inspired by the courage of the families who faced a horrifying present and uncertain future, Oppenheimer and Harris produced the film in memory of Oppenheimer’s mother Sylvia.  She was one of the 10,000 children up to age 17 whisked to England through Operation Kindertransport (Children’s Transport).  The rescue mission took place December 2, 1938 through September 1, 1939—a period between Kristallnacht and when Great Britain entered World War II.

This video memoir captured happy moments and harsh realities of Kindertransport, an operation that afforded legal immigration to Britain for the kids.  Using talking-head style interviews interspersed with historic footage, at least a dozen survivors recounted their lives from cared for and carefree to ostracized and isolated, from being “the center of the universe” to “realizing I was different.”  One interviewee said “The hurt was unbelievable. It cannot be described.” 

This “army of helpless children” came from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Danzig.  Approximately 1.5 million children died during the Holocaust. England was the only country willing to relax its immigration restriction.  The rescue plan was approved in the House of Commons during the term of Prime Minister Chamberlain.  The Nazis let the kids leave without packing any valuables in their suitcases.  In the documentary, survivors recalled thinking “my parents really love me and that is why they are sending me away.”  As they boarded the plane and trains, others remember their parents reassuring them with the words “We will follow; don’t worry.” The arrival location in England was Liverpool.  Children were dropped off at the rate of 300 per week “into the arms of strangers.”

“My mom would not talk about it when I was growing up so I never heard about Kindertransport,” recalled Oppenheimer.  Cancer claimed Sylvia’s life at age 65 and never got to tell her story.  Oppenheimer’s father found letters in a drawer and gave them to his daughter.  This set the producer on her quest to discover three things:  What is Kindertransport? What happened to her parents? What happened to her grandparents?

The Red Cross Connection

In conducting her research, Oppenheimer said there were 10,000 children so there should be 10,000 stories—good or bad.  Families of the relocated children found out that they could go to the Red Cross if they wanted to send messages.  They were allowed to write letters of no more than 25 words to enable them to be in touch with family and friends.  Oppenheimer was able to collect 1,000 letters between children, and between children and their parents.  “That was their way to be able to communicate.  It was their salvation to get letters from the Red Cross.  So, your organization was so important in a time of need.”  Some of the children felt that when the letters stopped coming, their parents may have been killed. 

Letters were Oppenheimer’s link to her mother’s past. “Red Cross messaging and tracing services are a lifeline especially if you are hanging on to every bit of information,” said Svetlana Fusekova, manager of International Services of the American Red Cross.  Oppenheimer praised the Red Cross for being a part in the lives of the Kindertransport kids.  She also praised the International Services staff for reaching out to her to ask if there could be a local screening of the documentary with her as a special guest speaker.

Lexicon and Beyond

What was a little-known mission of mercy is now part of the lexicon. In 2014, the Library of Congress named Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport as one of the 25 greatest movies of all time.  The Academy Award in 2001 was a force multiplier in raising awareness about Kindertransport.  Excerpts of the documentary are looped in Holocaust museums worldwide.

Oppenheimer noted that of the 10,000 children saved through Kindertransport, two went on to become Nobel Prize winners.  Many take pride in how their own families have grown, raising new generations.  Some survivors, like Hedy, remains an outspoken social activist.  Now in her 90s, she feels it is her duty to speak up.

In her 2001 interview in the New York Times, Oppenheimer said “For me, the power of the story is a 60-year perspective on loss and survival and what you do with that.”

For more information about Kindertransport:

"Into the Arms of Strangers" along with study guide and companion book.

Read American Red Cross Restoring Family Links blog about Nicholas Winton 

Visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum 

Visit The Kindertransport Associate  which will have their national conference this month.

Finding New Family: Red Cross Clarifies the Fate of Loved Ones Separated by World War II

Immediately following World War II, the Red Cross began clarifying the fate and whereabouts of loved ones for separated families.

Immediately following World War II, the Red Cross began clarifying the fate and whereabouts of loved ones for separated families.

Story by Robert Pollock, Volunteer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Millions of families were separated during World War II, whether as a consequence of Nazi concentration camps or other displacements caused by war. Since the end of the conflict, the Red Cross Movement has played an integral role in reconnecting families and helping individuals learn the fate of their loved ones. Despite the long stretches of distance and time, this work continues today.

In June 2015, the American Red Cross received a request from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany to clarify the fate of Mr. L. Gralski who was born in Poland in the early 1900s. The Inquirer, Mr. Gralski’s son, currently resides in Poland and wanted to learn more about what happened to his father following World War II.

Mr. Gralski had been drafted into the army in 1943 and was sent to the front. He never returned home.

The family in Poland received two letters from Mr. Gralski after the war.  The first letter came from a Polish Displaced Persons camp in Bavaria. The second and final letter indicated that he had met and married a woman with whom he had fathered a daughter. And that was all the information the family knew.

Through research done by the International Tracing Service, the American Red Cross learned that the new family subsequently immigrated to the United States, where Mr. Gralski lived until his death in 1984. This information allowed us to easily locate Mr. Gralski’s daughter, as the family was still living in the same residence in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

We reached the daughter via telephone.  As is common in cases such as this, she had doubts about our legitimacy.  We were able to persuade her that we really were the American Red Cross and that the detailed information we had gathered was all publicly available. The second hurdle for her was to come to terms with the fact that her now deceased father had another family prior to WWII, as he had never spoken of them.

Once she confirmed the accuracy of our information and verified her identity, we sent some documentation concerning her father’s life and that of his family’s prior to the war.

After reading over the documents and coming to terms with this new family history, she turned to a previously known family relative still in Poland, requesting that he reach out to this “new” family. He did, and subsequently, the daughter spoke directly to the son’s family via telephone and exchanged e-mail addresses.

Mr. Gralski’s daughter has traveled to Poland on a number of occasions in the past and may eventually return there to meet the new-found relatives.

As this story proves, it is never too late to reconnect with family or learn the fate of your loved ones. The first step is as simple as contacting your local Red Cross. To find your local chapter, please click here. You can also learn more about the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross and start your search online by visiting redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.