The Families of Two Brothers Torn Apart During the Holocaust Find Each Other At Long Last
For most of her life, 25-year-old Jessica Katz has known that the Holocaust took many of her relatives and a good chunk of her grandfather's soul.
He was a loving grandpa, but even as a little girl Katz knew that World War II and his homeland in Poland were subjects never far from his mind, but not something he reveled in talking about.
She knew that his parents were gassed to death in Treblinka, that his sister died of tuberculosis in the Piotrkow Trybunalski ghetto and that his beloved younger brother, Chaim, escaped to the Soviet Union but was never seen again.
"It was difficult for him to talk about that. He didn’t like to talk about himself," Katz told InsideEdition.com. But she knew it weighed heavily on him, as indelible on his heart as the tattooed number B-4022 seared onto his forearm by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
Concentration camp tattoo on the arm of Jessica Katz's grandfather. (Courtesy Jessica Katz)
Sadly, what Abram Belz never knew was that his brother, Chaim, had a full life in the Soviet Union. He joined the Red Army in 1942 and fought the Germans. He married and had four children. He died in 1970 at the age of 51.
Abram died in 2011 at the age of 95.
Katz's mother spent decades writing letters trying to find her uncle Chaim. It hurt to see her mother disappointed after yet another missive arrived, carrying no information about what had happened to the man.
Katz started her own search, driven by renewed interest in her grandfather's story. Online, in two weeks, she was able to accomplish what her mother could not over years. Emails to Russian genealogists led her to a website where she found Chaim's name, birth year and army service.
She used Google Translate to decipher the Cyrillic text.
More emails were sent, this time to genealogy Facebook pages and Russian Jewish forums. An email arrived from Israel, in Hebrew, from a woman saying she may have found Chaim's son. His name was Evgeny Belzhitsky. He and Katz began corresponding.
He sent along a photograph of his father, taken when he was a young man.
"My mom actually screamed" when she saw the image because it looked so much like a younger version of her father, Katz said. So Katz set up a Skype session on April 20, between her family members gathered in New Jersey, and Chaim's descendants assembled in Russia.
The family of Chaim, above, in Russia, and Jessica Katz's relatives in New Jersey, during Skype chat.
Through a translator, the family members talked for hours, learning details from years of separation.
"We said, OK, this is it. This is our family," Katz said. "Everything we feel, they feel. We were searching all these years ... and they didn't even know we were out there."
Belzhitsky said Chaim escaped the Polish ghetto through a hole in a gate his mother had discovered. "His dad never really spoke about that time," Katz said. When Bezhitsky asked his father if he had any siblings, Chaim replied "Yes, and they were all killed."
Chaim thought all of his family had perished when the ghetto was liquidated, Katz said. "It's so painful to think of everything he went through."
Jessica Katz with her grandpa Abram before his death in 2011
And what her grandfather endured, as well. He landed in five concentration camps in three years, Auschwitz among them. Eventually, he made his way to New York and became a tailor. His brother later worked as a tailor, too, in the Soviet Union.
The two families want to meet in person, to gather in the same spot and talk in real time, albeit with a translator. They haven't yet decided where or when, but it is a meeting they are determined to have - a bridge spanning decades, anguish and joy.
"I think it still hasn't sunk in," Katz said. "It's so shocking. The other day I woke up and said 'Wait. We found him?'''