quotA wonderquot Holocaust survivor reunited with family 80 years later

"A wonder": Holocaust survivor reunited with family 80 years later thanks to DNA test

A DNA test has helped a Holocaust survivor reunite with his family members more than 80 years later. In 1943, when he was only two years old, this Polish child was found on the streets of Warsaw after the ghetto uprising.

Before taking this DNA test, Shalom Koray knew “nothing” about his history, except that he had been discovered at age 2 in a backpack left on a street in the Warsaw Ghetto after the 1943 uprising. Even his first and last name were given. A mystery for this now 83-year-old man who grew up alone and was hidden in Polish orphanages to avoid anti-Semitic persecution.

But in August 2023, a DNA test and genealogy experts enabled the octogenarian to make a completely unexpected discovery. Thanks to them, Shalom Koray was able to locate a member of his family, Anne Meddin Hellman, a 77-year-old cousin who now lives in Charleston, United States. He is expected to meet her next summer, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, which reports this story on the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

“I knew nothing. Without the DNA test, there is nothing,” said Shalom Koray. “You can’t look for something if you don’t know what you want to find.”

A child adopted in Israel in 1949

After the boy was found on a street – presumably by a police officer – and smuggled out of the ghetto, he was entrusted to a Catholic institution in southern Poland. After the war, he was looked after by Lena Küchler-Silberman, a Polish Jew who had worked for the resistance. This woman had been commissioned by the Jewish Committee to look after orphans who had survived the Shoah and to bring them to Palestine.

She took him under her wing along with four other Jewish children (out of a total of a hundred) to go to Czechoslovakia, France and then Israel in 1949. There the child was adopted and he gave up his Polish name: Piotr Korczak for Shalom Koray. Today the octogenarian, who has worked on trucks most of his life, lives in northern Israel.

Last summer it was Magdalena Smoczyńska, a professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, who initiated this genealogical research. For five years, this researcher has been studying the fate of around a hundred children who were found in orphanages after surviving the Holocaust.

“Finding Shalom is a miracle”

She invites Shalom Koray to take some saliva and send it to the MyHeritage website in hopes of finding a DNA match. But a few weeks later, in September, the name Ann Meddin Hellman surfaced. “Her name meant nothing to me,” admits the American, “but thanks to the work of a genealogy expert from MyHeritage, Daniel Horowitz, a family tree slowly emerged.”

“When the photo (of Shalom Koray) arrived, my husband and I said to each other, 'This is my brother,'” the septuagenarian said. “We all thought this branch of the family was wiped out. Finding Shalom is a miracle.”

Investigations revealed that Ann Meddin Hellman's grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1893, several decades before the genocide. His brother – probably Shalom Koray's grandfather – had stayed in Poland.

Jeanne Bulant journalist BFMTV

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