Bernard Krutz never knew his parents. A Holocaust survivor who was hidden as a toddler during the war and was then adopted by a Polish Jewish family after the war, he didn’t remember his parents or his family name.
On Thursday, with the help of DNA testing, Yad Vashem and the decades-long investigative efforts of his daughter, Lisa Baron, Krutz, now around 81, met his first cousin, Esti Kisseloff, 72, born in Israel and living in Tel Aviv.
“It’s surprising,” said Krutz, with a little smile. “I was always looking for somebody.”
The two first cousins sat side-by-side on a love seat, Esti’s arm firmly held around Krutz, in the living room of his daughter’s rented home in Modiin, where she and her family are spending the year, away from their life in New Jersey.
“He’s been looking 50 years for family,” said Kisseloff. “I didn’t look because I didn’t know he was alive.”
Now, said Kisseloff, “I just want to hold him, to hug him and to kiss him. I’ve found a whole new world.”
The cousins sat together on the small couch, speaking in English, their only common language. Krutz speaks Polish but no Yiddish or Hebrew, which are his cousin’s other languages.
Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan was also present, showing the paperwork that officially linked Krutz to Kisseloff.
Yad Vashem had testimony given by Kisseloff’s mother in 1956, testifying that Bernard’s father had been killed in the Warsaw Ghetto and that his son, Bernard, known then as Bolek, had been killed as well.
“The combination of the DNA and this testimony allowed this reunion,” said Dayan. “This kind of thing happens rarely and it happens less and less, but miracles do happen.”
Kisseloff’s mother thought she was giving testimony for posterity, because she believed he was dead, added Dayan. “She did it for her family.”
Krutz, his wife Sonya, and their daughter, Lisa Baron, had come up against a series of dead-ends in their search for more information about Krutz’s family.
After a trip to Poland yielded no new details, Baron posted her dilemma on a Jewish genealogy group on Facebook. After repeatedly being told to do DNA testing, she bought a DNA test and convinced her father to take it.
They found that the name Krutz had been given in Poland, Bolek Szczycki, by the family that hid him, appeared on other family trees. It all fell into place, said Baron, now that he had a name.
She contacted Yad Vashem, which then looked for the name Bolek Szczycki, found it connected to Esti Kisseloff’s mother, and gave them Esti’s phone number.
Kisseloff did a DNA test in July, and the results came back showing that she and Krutz were cousins.
“I feel like a newborn,” said Kisseloff.
The only snafu in this discovery of first cousins was Baron’s efforts to bring her parents to Israel to meet Kisseloff, as Israel was only allowing in first-degree relatives. It took three weeks of negotiations, and working with former MK Dov Lipman’s Yad L’Olim organization, until the Krutzes were able to come to Israel with a humanitarian exception.
For now, Baron feels equally stunned by this windfall of relatives.
“I never dreamed we’d find somebody who would be this for him,” she said, commenting that she has known aspects of her father’s story since she was a little girl, including the glaring absence of basic facts about his early years.
After the war, Krutz was taken to a Jewish orphanage, eventually spending time in three different orphanages.
“Other kids kept on being found by their families, by a parent, an aunt, a cousin, but no one came for me,” he said.
When he finally was adopted, around the age of nine, it was by a Jewish couple who were Communists, living in Warsaw. They had also adopted a little girl, although Krutz didn’t know for many years that his younger sister was also adopted.
“We didn’t talk about anything like that,” he said.
Her father can remember the children he played with while in hiding, the orphanages he lived in after the war, the friends he made in the orphanages, but nothing of his parents. With the encouragement of his wife, Sonya, he tried psychotherapy and searched for facts about his family, but couldn’t find anything.
During the first hours of their emotional reunion, Krutz and Kisseloff kept trying to fill in the few details they each knew, a process that will clearly continue for some time.
While Kisseloff has family on her father’s side, her mother’s side had no survivors with the exception of one older cousin, Ita, who also lived in Israel and died recently.
Ita was 10 when she ran away from the Warsaw Ghetto, said Kisseloff. She knew more of the family stories, she said.
The two newfound cousins conjectured whether the name Bolek was the name he used in daycare, and whether his parents paid the family that hid him, a common occurrence in those desperate years of the Holocaust.
“I didn’t want to know anything about the Holocaust, I was born here, I was a Sabra,” said Kisseloff. “Now if I could bring my parents back for just one week and make all the connections, I would. What I’ve got is not very much.”
Now, however, she has Bernard, and Bernard has Esti. They held hands as they related their stories.
“It’s unbelievable to think that we now have all this family,” said Baron. “All these cousins.”
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