Millions of families were separated during the atrocities of the Holocaust. The countless young children who were able to escape Nazi Germany were left wondering what happened to their parents, siblings, and loved ones. For most people, the answers would never come.
81-year-old Holocaust survivor Miriam Shapiro spent most of her years attempting to learn the fate of her family. Then she stumbled across one photograph that changed her entire life.
Born in West Germany to a Jewish family, Miriam lived with her parents, sister Edith, and older brother Otto in the early days of Nazi rule. Although she was just four years old, she remembers hiding in her parents’ room during Kristallnacht, the “Crystal Night.”
She also recalls the day the Nazis came and took her parents while she and her siblings hid under the bed. She later learned that her mother had disappeared while at the Lodz ghetto, while her father, Jacob (below), died at Dachau three weeks before the camp’s liberation.
For decades,Miriam searched for documentation related to Otto and her parents, including information on how and where her brother had died. It wasn’t until her 80th birthday that she received this photograph from the Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, taken of Otto at age 12.
Accompanying the photo was a death certificate. It was confirmation that Otto had passed away in a monastery outside London that also served as a school for orphans. With this new information and the help of English genealogists, Miriam finally got the news she had been seeking all her life: her brother’s grave had been found.
With her two daughters by her side, Miriam finally visited her brother’s resting place in this Jewish cemetery located in a London suburb. There, she said a prayer for Otto.
But there was one bittersweet reunion to come among the gravestones after all: Joey Flux, whose parents had looked after Miriam during her youth in Manchester.
The Flux family had taken in many refugee children after the war, and after Miriam left for Israel, Joey’s mother urged him not to forget the orphaned girl. Their meeting in the cemetery marked the first time they had seen each other in 64 years.
Miriam brought four stones with her from Israel to place on Otto’s grave, representing each of her long-lost family members. She says: “I had a right to close the circle and mourn the whole family.”
Though the visit was painful, Miriam is grateful for the opportunity to bring closure to her family. She says, “I had a father and mother, brother and sister. Only I am left to tell the story to future generations.”
I am so glad that Miriam found the resolution she so desperately needed. When light can be found in such darkness, hope remains.
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