Eliahu Pietruszka shuffled his 102-year-old body through the lobby of his retirement home Thursday toward a stranger he had never met and collapsed into him in a teary embrace.
Only days earlier, the Holocaust survivor who thought his entire family had perished in WWII learned that a younger brother had also survived, and his brother’s son, 66-year-old Alexandre, was flying in from a remote part of Russia to see him.
Pietruszka was 24 when he fled Warsaw in 1939, heading to the Soviet Union and leaving behind his parents and twin brothers Volf and Zelig, who were nine years younger. His parents and Zelig were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto and killed in a Nazi death camp, but Volf managed to escape.
The brothers briefly corresponded before Volf was sent by the Russians to a Siberian work camp, where Pietruszka assumed he had died, reports the AP.
Then two weeks ago, his grandson, Shakhar Smorodinsky, received an email from a cousin in Canada who was working on her family tree. She said she had uncovered a page of testimony collected by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in 2005 by Volf Pietruszka about his older brother Eliahu, who he thought had died.
Volf, it turned out, had survived and settled in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Ural Mountains. Smorodinsky ultimately discovered that Volf, who had spent his life as a construction worker, had died in 2011 but that Alexandre, his only child, still lived there.
After Smorodinsky arranged a brief Skype chat, Alexandre decided to come see the uncle he never knew he had.
“You are a copy of your father,” said a shaking Pietruszka. “I haven’t slept in two nights waiting for you.”