Ran Shemesh's story of discovering his grandfather's cousin begins with a picture of a young girl and her brother standing in a park. Ran could never imagine how this photograph would lead him on a journey he would never forget. It is a story that started 75 years ago in a small town in Germany and that ended in a family reunion. "I learned about the Holocaust in school and watched movies about it my entire life, but never realized how close I am to this subject. Suddenly I understood what happened to my grandfather," Ran said.
Yohanan Bukofzer is a Holocaust survivor from Polzin, Germany. He was only 9-years-old when he left his parents and younger sister for shelter in France after Kristillnacht – the night of the broken glass. His grandson, Ran, became interested in 2 photographs of Yohanan and his sister, Anita. This is all that remained of Yohanan's family that was murdered in the Shoah. As a special gesture to his grandfather, Ran scanned the pictures and fixed them in Photoshop. "I looked at his sister's picture. She was 8-years-old back then and reminded me of my own son – who is around the same age. I really felt connected to her and felt sorry for what happened to her."
After a quick look online, Ran found a stolpersteine (stumbling stones) – concrete blocks covered with a brass plate on which the name, date of birth, and the date and location of death are engraved – with Anita Bukofzer's name on it in Berlin. Also engraved was that she was born in 1930 and deported to Auschwitz in 1943.
Ran decided to go to Berlin and search for more details about her and the family. But he failed to find even a clue.
In 2013 Ran heard a radio announcement by Yad Vashem calling on the public to commemorate the names of Shoah victims. "I entered the Yad Vashem website to the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and started searching for people that used to live in my grandfather's town. Suddenly I saw pictures of my grandfather's sister. I know that my grandfather did not fill out a Page of Testimony, and some of the pictures were unfamiliar to me. I was shocked. I looked at the Page of Testimony and saw that the submitter was named Kaethe Johanna Schweitzer. I called my grandfather and he was also shocked. He asked 'who gave them the pictures?'" When Ran showed the photo of Anita that was attached to the Page of Testimony to Yohanan, he remembered. "He told me that the two photographs of him and Anita in the park [and the ones found on the Yad Vashem website] were taken by a cousin who arrived from England to visit the family just before the war broke out. She had a camera – something rare in those days – and took the pictures."
Based on the details from Yad Vashem's website, Ran managed to locate and contact his cousin Kaethe Johanna Schweitzer, who was still alive and living in London. The Skype call that followed reunited her with her cousin, Yohanan after 75 years of separation. Kaethe Johanna had also saved many photographs of the Bukofzer family and sent them to Yohanan. She passed away in March 2014. Yohanan and Ran are so appreciative that they could speak with her and get to know her before she died.