Livia Prince, nee Lili Reiter, of Toronto traveled to Israel to visit her second cousin Veronica Zer (nee Rudas) after discovering her some 64 years after the two last saw one another. The cousins who were close as girls, lost touch when they went their separate ways after the Holocaust. The cousin’s had a strong relationship established during the 1940s in Hungary when Mrs. Prince's mother helped her first cousin, Mrs. Zer's mother cope with hardship.
"In 1942, (Mrs. Zer's) father was already brutally drafted into one of the forced labour batallions," Mrs. Prince said. "My mother said, 'okay, you're in hardship. My girls are the same age, so your daughter can stay with us. We were three teenage girls in the middle of a horrendous war." The girls spent countless hours together until the following spring, when Nazi forces had taken over the area. "All the Jews in the province were ghettoed and put into cattle cars and into Auschwitz," Mrs. Prince said. "My family perished and I alone crawled out of the ashes."
While both cousins survived, they lost touch after the war, with Mrs. Prince moving to Canada in 1952. In 2006, she learned of the Yad Vashem Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project, which seeks to recover the names of all the Jews killed in the Shoah, and commemorated her parents' and sister's names on Pages of Testimony.
During outreach efforts Yad Vashem staff presented the project to Bayit B'lev, the nursing home where Mrs. Zer was living. When she sought to register the names of the Reiter family, she was informed Mrs. Prince had already done so, and quickly found out how to contact her long-lost cousin.
She contacted Mrs. Prince who immediately called her cousin to re-forge their family ties and learn of one another's lives since the horrific days of the Second World War.
Even after receiving the unexpected letter, the Toronto resident was not entirely convinced she would make the journey to Israel. "It was a bit of a struggle to make my mind up," she said. "It's a big trip."
Before long, however, Mrs. Prince decided the chance to reconnect with her long-lost cousin and friend was too good to pass up. She felt it was fate that gave her such a wonderful reason to visit Israel at a time when she had already considered traveling there. "I thought 'this is God's hand,'" she said. "I was thinking of going (to Israel) to visit friends I went to school with 60-some years ago, but I had decided I wasn't ready for a trip like that. When I got the letter, I said, 'this is the sign.'"
The reunion included sightseeing in Jerusalem and a visit to the Valley of Communities, where they lit memorial candles together to recognize the loved ones they lost in the Shoah.