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Have You Seen My Brother?

Yocheved Lavon

Nearly seven decades after he last saw his twin brother, Menachem Bodner decided to give it one last chance. He agreed to let a family friend post a message on a well-known genealogical forum in Israel where survivors have long searched for loved ones lost during the Shoah. With a twin’s sixth sense, he felt certain that somewhere in the world, his brother was still alive. But what had happened to him? And then, genealogist Ayana KimRon saw his message.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The One Reliable Clue “I thought it was a very strange message,” KimRon told Mishpacha. “It was written in Hebrew, in the masculine form, but signed by a woman. And it raised questions more than it gave me anything to go on.” Yet it touched a deep current of curiosity, and something more than curiosity.

She contacted the family friend, but the woman had little information to offer. Finally, Menachem himself called KimRon, and she was quickly hooked. She promised Bodner she wouldn’t abandon the search — even if she spent the rest of her life on it.

Since then, the search for Bodner’s twin has become almost her raison d’être. Like a bloodhound on the chase, she has often gone without eating or sleeping while tracking clues to Jolli’s fate. “It consumes me,” she confesses.

The meal sitting untouched in front of her stands as evidence that she isn’t exaggerating.

Bodner had kept a picture that had been in his pocket whenAuschwitzwas liberated. He believed it was a picture of his family, although he had no idea where it had come from. But KimRon studied the picture and was convinced that it could not be Menachem’s family. Not wanting to take away the only thing that gave him a sense of connection to his original family, she said nothing. But one day, when Menachem again spoke about the picture as his family, she asked him gently, “Where is your twin brother? Why isn’t he in the picture?” 

Later, after his true identity was verified, Menachem decided that the long-cherished photo was not of his family after all.

To Ayana, it was clear that a search for the twin brother must begin with discovering Menachem’s true identity. What was his birth name? Where was he from? And the one true lead they had to that was the identifying number tattooed on Menachem’s arm.

The number, etched on his arm two months before his fourth birthday, was barely legible on the skin of a 72-year-old man: A-7733. But it was objective evidence, and it was the key to finding Menachem’s name in the records from World War II.

 KimRon went to the sources, and there they were — Menachem and his brother on the list of twins recorded by the Germans atAuschwitz. Menachem was listed as Elias Gottesman, number A-7733, and his twin brother as Jeno Gottesman, number A-7734.

Now they had a birth name, as recorded by German hands, and clear proof that the twins had been together inAuschwitz.

A bigger breakthrough came when KimRon’s research led to a list of healthy surviving mothers compiled by Polish Red Cross medical staff. Jeno was on the list, along with his mother, proving that Jolli was very much alive in liberatedAuschwitz. So, Jolli too was liberated, but where did he go and with whom?


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