From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul


On a dark winter night in a Polish orphanage just after the end of World War II, children gathered around a Hanukkah candelabrum singing in Yiddish. But there was one girl who did not know what Hanukkah was. She was only five years old and had been brought to the orphanage sick and dazed. She didn’t know her last name or where she was born. All she knew was that her name was Rosa, that she spoke Polish and that thunder terrified her.

The very existence of these orphaned children was a miracle. Only one in a hundred Polish Jewish children had escaped the Nazis. The children at the orphanage had one abiding hope: that someone would claim them. But no one ever came to claim Rosa.

In 1947 she was adopted by a couple who treated her like their own child. But Rosa’s happiness did not last. When her new mother learned that she was pregnant, Rosa was returned to the orphanage.

A year later, an older couple adopted Rosa. They were kind, but Rosa sensed they didn’t want to discuss her past. She still longed to know about her real parents.

In 1957, when Rosa was seventeen, her family got permission to leave Poland for Israel. Rosa didn’t want to go. How could her family find her if she left Poland?

In Israel Rosa studied nursing and served in the army. She met Lova, a handsome businessman and Polish survivor. He wanted to marry her. At first, Rosa refused, because, she said, she had a terrible secret—she didn’t know who she was. But Lova persisted and they were married.

Now joined by her husband, Rosa searched for clues to her past, visiting government offices, questioning survivors and attending Holocaust conferences. But because Rosa knew so little about her origins, they had no starting point for their search. The orphanage had long since been closed.

As the years passed, Rosa’s pain only grew worse. Every year on Holocaust Memorial Day, when the TV was filled with specials and documentaries, she watched all day, crying, hoping to learn something new. She never gave up her faith in God. Every Hanukkah she asked for a miracle.

One year, Israel Television producer Vered Berman decided to produce a special on survivors who didn’t know their identity. She convinced her boss to use the station’s resources to find missing links to the past. Rosa was one of fifteen survivors she tried to help.

But the paper trails led nowhere. Often the facts supplied by the children were confused with fantasy. Many of the sources had died.

Rosa’s file was thin, but there was one promising clue. Rosa remembered the headmistress of the orphanage. She was a very grand woman, with a queenly manner. Rosa also remembered her name was Falkowska. What were the chances of finding a woman who had been middle-aged when Rosa was a child?

Still, Berman was optimistic. In Warsaw, the Israeli consul found the phone number of a Maria Falkowska. He called her, but her only response was, “Leave an old woman alone.”

Rosa’s intuition told her this had to be the only person who could provide the answer to her question. Trembling, she dialed Warsaw. The voice that answered sent her back fifty years. Rosa explained who she was, but the old lady insisted that she didn’t remember her. Rosa’s heart fell, but she persisted, reminding the woman of her adoption, trying to jog her memory. Finally, Maria Falkowska remembered, and told Rosa to call back in two days. She would see what she could find.

Rosa could barely eat or sleep. When she phoned again, Falkowska revealed she had kept a diary and in its yellowed pages found a note from 1952 that a couple—Amelia and Jacob Jarcyzn—was looking for their daughter, Rosa. Rosa felt as if a bolt of lightning had just passed through her.

Rosa conveyed the information to Berman, who dispatched a research team to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where millions of records are kept. Hours into the research, a researcher gave an involuntary shout. On hazy film were entries for Amelia and Jacob Jarcyzn, written in 1949 Poland. The cards didn’t contain a current address, but under place of birth was Katowice, in southeast Poland.

An album had been published by the survivors of Katowice, and Berman found the Jarcyzns’ story in it. Decades after the war they were still searching for their daughter. In the album was a photo of Rosa, which her parents had obtained from one of the orphanages she’d been through.

The album editor directed Berman to Doba Buchstein, a friend of Amelia’s who lived in Jerusalem.

Yes, said Buchstein, who was eighty-three, she knew the family well. In 1970 they’d left Poland for Denmark. They had two sons, Sam and Henry, and an elder child, a girl named Rosa, born at the beginning of the war.

Jacob had died four years earlier. With his last breath he wept for the daughter he had never seen. Amelia, nearly eighty, was living in housing for the elderly in Denmark. She’d had a stroke but was clear-minded.

Without telling Rosa, Berman called her brothers. Henry flew from Warsaw immediately. His parents had always told him and Sam that they had a sister, but he never dared to believe that he would meet her.

Berman asked Rosa to Buchstein’s home, telling her only that she’d met someone from her parents’ hometown. Henry promised to wait in another room until Berman could tell Rosa the full story. But the minute he saw his sister he couldn’t contain himself. He enfolded her in his arms. “He’s your brother,” Berman whispered. Henry phoned their mother. “I’m here with Rosa,” he managed to get out.

As soon as was possible Rosa made the five-hour flight to Denmark. As she stepped over the threshold of Amelia Jarcyzn’s room she was unable to swallow the lump in her throat. Sitting up in bed was a frail, dignified woman who looked like an older version of Rosa. Amelia’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“My baby,” she said. “I have always loved you. I have waited my whole life to hear you call me Momma.”

Bittersweet emotion swept over Rosa—the joy of reunion mixed with the sorrow of fifty-five lost years. Rosa knelt by her mother’s bedside and lifted her fragile hand to her lips. Tears ran down the cheeks of both women. “You must tell me everything,” Amelia beseeched her.

After Rosa had told her mother the story of her life, it was her turn to listen. In fragments, over the weeks that followed, Rosa learned that her parents had fled to Russia, where they were arrested as spies. Jacob was deported to a work camp in Siberia.

Alone in a freezing prison, in February 1940, Amelia gave birth to Rosa. She washed her beautiful baby under a prison faucet, dried the homemade diapers on her back, and slept with her child cradled in her arms, to protect her from ferocious rats.

For a year Amelia managed to keep Rosa alive despite being transferred to six different forced-labor camps. She was a nurse and when she contracted tuberculosis she feared the end was near. When Rosa took sick, Amelia smuggled her out to an orphanage run by Polish nuns, just north of the Mongolian border. When Amelia recovered, she wanted to get her child back but was conscripted into the Polish resistance army. In the upheaval of war, the orphanage was moved many times.

After the war, Amelia was reunited with Jacob, now nearly blind. They searched all over Poland. Amelia recognized Rosa in a photograph from one of the orphanages, but she had been transferred and the trail ended there.

They kept on looking, visiting Israel several times in the hope of finding her there.

After Amelia had her stroke, she was afraid that she would die without finding Rosa.

Rosa and Lova wanted to bring Amelia home to Israel, but the doctors warned that her condition was grave. Rosa’s children, her brothers and their families all flew to Denmark. Eight weeks after mother and daughter were reunited, during which time they had had the chance to get to know each other, Amelia died. Rosa nursed her in her final days and she died in her daughter’s loving arms.

“Don’t let anyone tell you there are no miracles,” Rosa says. “Even in the darkest times there’s a candle of hope.”

Barbara Sofer

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