Case History : Betty

In their "Tales from the net" series the BBC has made a 2-minute film about this search View it here:

In January 1996 there was a message on the Jewish genealogical Society from a woman in USA asking "please, will someone help me find my mother" to which I responded.

In a nutshell: This 50-year-old American woman arrived with her parents from the DP camps in 1949. Early 1950 her mother returned to Germany and was never heard of again. She was told mother had died. Her father died when she was 12. Her aunt, with whom she lived, prevented her from naming a daughter after the mother, and for the first time doubt set in about the mother's death. All we had to go by was a vague idea of her mother's age, 2 poste restante addresses from which there had been no answer in 1950. Also, that the mother's USA re-entry visa had expired because she had missed an appointment to report to the USA Consul in Germany as a result of her hospitalisation. We had no idea whether she was alive in 1996.

By coincidence, also in February 96, I read in the Jewishgen messages Margret report that she was volunteering for work in connection with the Dachau Memorial Site. To me Dachau was synonymous with Munich, so I asked whether she would help with my search for this mother. Margret is a remarkable character, a German - combating Holocaust Denial on the German nets. I will forgive her for not being Jewish. (only just!). I love talking about her behind her back, and I have grown to like her more as I saw the vehemence and selflessness with which she threw herself into this search.

The search was aided by many in the USA, Israel, Canada, Germany, Poland, Austria and now stretches to Russia as well. Between us we went to town. Margret found the girl's birth certificate, the DP camp in Bavaria, the parents' marriage registration. We also learned that they for a while they had lived in Foehrenwald Displaced Persons' Camp. There was mention of Mauthausen Concentration Camp. That too we need to research. The documents we found gave for the first time dates, dates of birth, details of parents and grand parents, towns of origin......

Some 900 e-mails later and I have no idea how many letters and phone calls, visits to archives, libraries, etc etc, a letter came from a German municipality to confirm that the mother was living there, with a new surname.

The background to this story:

Out of the ashes of World War 2 came 2 people who met. He was 23 years older than she. They married, had a baby in 1946. With the help of HIAS the family reached the USA in 1950. Within very few months the mother returned to Germany and was never heard of again. The child was 4.

She had been put in a Jewish orphanage, created merry hell about being separated from the father, was brought up partly by an aunt, the father remarried in 1956. In 1958 when the child was 12 the father died.

From the HIAS documents we had two Poste Restante addresses. We also knew that the mother had been ill for 7 weeks in a hospital. That was why she missed her appointment and thus her re-entry permit to the USA expired. All that was 1950.

We also had the memories, (lodged at the Washington Holocaust Memorial Centre) dictated by the father's brother to his daughter. These memoirs told how this uncle and aunt survived, and occasionally they mentio the father who also hid from the Nazis in the Ukrainian forests. When the Russian army began to advance, they all fled toward the Russians, and eventually reached Munich with the advancing military.

We started to write to all sorts of places - I discovered via the WWW the address of a USA Army Rabbi now long retired and living in New Mexico - who probably married them. He had married too many in the DP camps to remember the specific couple I was interested in. He was the instigator of keeping the written records of the remnants still alive in 1945.

Over the Internet I also found a Woman in Western Virginia who volunteered and researched 1950 local newspaper microfilms and who found the story of the welcome ceremony for the newly arrived refugees there. We learned that Betty had Measles at the time and therefore missed the party. We also discovered a Restaurant in Munich today owned by ex-Foehrenwald inmates.

Eventually I received a letter from one of the municipalities I had written to - "yes, this woman is registered here, the address is, her name now is ...... "

You can imagine - we had two women in total shock. The mother, by then 71, had no idea we were searching. The daughter spoke English, the mother German. The one considered herself to be Jewish - the mother was not.

We also learned about AMCHA - a wonderful Jewish Organisation giving counselling support to Survivors of - and Children of - the Holocaust. A lot of wonderful people were - and continue to be - available with help and support. [They were the subject of A BBC Timewatch programme: "Children of the Third Reich"]

So, now we have two women, separated for 46 years. They have started to communicate directly, but gingerly. There is a LOT of pain, much to be learned - especially the truth as seen by the other side.....

The story is not finished: We need to research Foehrenwald. We need the names of people, where they came from, where they went. We need to find some who may still be alive, who might remember the father and the mother. We need to create a factual history, and then delve back into the genealogy.

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