The last time 87-year-old Wolf Hall saw his 90-year-old older sister Esther Bielski (née Hauszpeigel) was in 1940 in the Lodz ghetto. Wolf was 17 at the time, and had left the ghetto together with his parents and six of his siblings for Krasnik, the first in a series of several relocations during the war. Esther's fate, however, took her to the Radom ghetto, and Wolf never heard from her again.
In 1980, believing he had no surviving family, Wolf submitted a Page of Testimony to Yad Vashem commemorating his relatives killed during the Holocaust, including Esther. But Esther had in fact survived; she had married Aaron Bielski in Radom, given birth to a daughter in Germany and immigrated to Israel, where she lives today.
Meanwhile, Esther's daughter Rachel Vered had grown up believing that her mother was alone in the world. Her father Aaron had spoken about his wartime experiences, but explicitly instructed his daughter to honor her mother's request to never inquire into her past, leaving Rachel with a deep void and no information about her maternal family.
Rachel's search for her mother's roots began in earnest around two years ago, in the wake of Aaron's death. After visiting Yad Vashem and following a frustrating journey to Lodz to seek out information from the local archives that yielded no new information, Rachel enlisted the assistance of journalist and genealogist Zack Oryan, who painstakingly searched the Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem relating to the name Hauszpeigel from the Lodz area. His focus brought an interesting result: a particular Page submitted by Wolf, who upon his arrival in the US had changed his surname to Hall. After cross-checking with the genealogical research he had already gathered, based primarily on Jewish Records Indexing - Poland (JRI-Poland), Zack contacted Wolf on Rachel's behalf.
Upon receiving the call, Wolf was overcome with emotion. His daughter, Esther, joined the conversation. “For some reason, my sister was always in my mind, so I gave my younger daughter her name,” explained Wolf. He then recounted details of his family's history, including Esther's birth date, her nickname (Adja) and their father's profession (shoemaker). Unfortunately, due to fragile health conditions the two siblings will not be able to meet each other in person, but were "virtually reunited" when they conversed via Skype. Plans were made, however, for Rachel travel to Seattle to meet her newfound family in person.
During her emotional visit to the Wolf family home this September, Rachel presented her uncle and cousins with gifts; family heirlooms belonging to her mother Esther to ensure "they would each possess a physical object from my mother's home – a symbolic piece of my mother." She admitted that before her visit she had been apprehensive. "I knew I had family, but I didn't know these people. I had no idea if we would feel a connection. But as the saying goes 'blood is thicker than water.' Even if I had grown up with this family I wouldn't have had a better connection with them than I do now. It is truly amazing.”
Nearly 70 years have passed since the Holocaust, and the era of reunion stories such as this is drawing to a natural close. Nevertheless, for Wolf too, the experience was one he could never have dreamed of. “I was so happy to learn I had a sister, although sadly I can't meet her. Still, I found somebody; I became an uncle. This is a bittersweet joy.”