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.