In March 2014, Polina Gavriluk (40) from Kostopil, Ukraine informed Yad Vashem that she had discovered a cousin in Israel while researching the fate of her grandfather's family during the Holocaust. Moshe Eydelevitch was killed while serving as a solider in the Red Army, and Polina had in her possession letters that Moshe had written at the front, including his “last letter,” sent four days before he was killed and only two weeks before the end of the war. In the letter, Moshe wrote about his desire to learn what had happened to his brother Mendel, Mendel’s wife Chasia, and their daughters, Sima and Miriam. “The letters are all we have from my grandfather,” explained Polina. “I wanted to solve the mystery of what had become of his brother Mendel… I felt that Moshe would have wanted me to try to find him.”
Chasia, Sima and Miriam had in fact been murdered in the Ponary forest near Vilna in July 1941. But Mendel's third daughter Rivka had managed to escape the Vilna ghetto to the forests, where she joined a partisan unit. In 1946 she married, and the couple immigrated to Israel in 1958.
In 1983, Rivka Gurvitz submitted Pages of Testimony in memory of her father Mendel Eidlicz, and his family. Discovering the Pages of Testimony on the Yad Vashem website, Polina contacted Rivka, now aged 90. A conversation with Rivka’s daughter, Ahuva Stav, confirmed that Moshe and Mendel were, in fact, brothers. Maksim Gur, Rivka’s son, was deeply moved when Ahuva informed him of the discovery. Maksim (named after his grandfather Max/Mendel) had served as a diplomatic emissary in Kiev from 1995-1997, never knowing that family members who had survived the war were living in Kostopil, a town in western Ukraine some 220 miles from Kiev. “If only I had known,” he says, “I might have been able to help them reconnect with their Jewish identities, and perhaps even immigrate to Israel.”
After discovering the Eidlicz branch of the family in Israel, Polina moved her investigations to her grandfather's sister Sylvia, who had moved to the US before the war. Sylvia was last registered as living in New York City in 1940. In 1933 she had married Jacob Brier, and in 1935 gave birth to a son named Joseph.
Staff of the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project at Yad Vashem contacted journalist Hillel Kutler, whose column “Seeking Kin” aims to help reunite long-lost relatives and friends, and asked for his assistance. Kutler succeeded in locating Joseph Brier, thereby reuniting the third – US – branch of the family with the other two. Joe Brier (79) from Suffern New York was surprised to learn he had living family members in Ukraine and Israel. An only child, Brier grew up with few relatives, the most central figures in his life being his maternal grandparents, Tobias and Malka Eidlicz, the family name slightly different to the one Polina Gavriluk had known for her grandfather.
In July 2014, Maksim Gur was reunited with his newfound cousin Irina Grizenyuk, Polina Gavriluk’s younger sister, who traveled from Ukraine to Israel. “We are so happy to have found real family, to be related by actual DNA," says Maksim Gur. "This is a brand new phenomenon for all of us. It’s going to take some getting used to.”