Story by Bill Fortune, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Volunteer
Photos provided by Dawid Kufel
A family patriarch survived WWII concentration camps, became an American citizen and lived a productive life in the United States. His family never knew until the Red Cross discovered his story and helped fill the gaps in the family history.
Warsaw, Poland 1939: Polish Army Corporal Boleslaw Joseph Obst was detained by Nazis and sentenced to Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp. World War II raged on and when the Red Army advanced he was marched to Flossenberg Concentration Camp in Germany. It was there that Obst wrote his last letter to his family. Shortly after that the family was notified that he had died in the concentration camp.
Jump to 2013: Genofewa Tonder, Obst’s daughter, received a death certificate from the state of Virginia stating that Boleslaw Joseph Obst died in 1997 at the age of 85 in Richmond, Va. The family never knew he had survived the war and that he had lived in the United States as an American citizen for more than 50 years.
In April 2013, James Griffith, American Red Cross Restoring Family Links Caseworker, received an email from Dawid Kufel, a foreign exchange student from Poland living in Colorado Springs, Colo. The email told how the family was very surprised to find that their patriarch had actually survived the concentration camps and instead died in Richmond, Va. They had tried unsuccessfully to get additional information and hoped that the Red Cross would be able to help them fill in the missing years. Dawid in particular wanted to learn more about his grandfather.
"The fact that he (Obst) had died here in the United States meant that there had to be some kind of information about him, some kind of outline of his past to fill the gaps,” said Griffith. “It was a puzzle that I felt needed to be put together.”
Griffith found that Obst had been liberated by the U.S. Army 90th Infantry Division April 23, 1945. He then traveled to the United States as a refugee under the International Refugee Organization.
With the help of Richmond Times Dispatch Newspaper archivist Ellen Robertson, they located the grave site and documented that he had worked for more than 30 years as a baker, never remarried and died June 2, 1997, in Richmond, Va.
The family was given the information and in June 2013 Dawid Kufel traveled to Richmond, Va. to visit the grave site of the grandfather he never knew. In an email, Kufel expressed his thanks to the Red Cross. "It gives us a good feeling that we were able to find something about my grandfather’s past,” he said. “It is sad that we didn't have a chance to know him but at least we know what happened.”
When it was all said and done Griffith was able to sit back with some satisfaction knowing that he had brought closure to the family. “It's really sad that neither side of the family knew the other was alive all those years,” he said. “But it's really good that we were able to help bring them a little closer together.”
For more stories from the Red Cross Colorado and Wyoming Region, please visit their blog by clicking here.
For more information about the Restoring Family Links program, please visit our website at www.redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.