Dora Rapaport lost her entire family in the Holocaust. She survived, but the baby girl she gave birth to in a concentration camp was taken by the Nazis. It would take 75 years for the fractured pieces of her family to come back together.
Dora Rapaport lost her entire family in the Holocaust. The young woman survived, but the baby girl she gave birth to in a concentration camp was taken from her by the Nazis and the new mother never saw her baby daughter again.
Rappaport managed to escape the concentration camp she was in and fled to Austria in 1945. During that time, she met a man who was also a Holocaust survivor and who would later become her husband. The two married and had a family of their own. In 1949, they emigrated to America with their two daughters, Dena and Jean.
The sisters, Dena Morris, 73, and Jean Gearhart, 75 told Inside Edition Digital that their mother, Dora, spent her entire life looking for her daughter who was named Eva. She made several trips to Germany in her search for Eva, checking different orphanages for any signs of the little girl taken from her as a baby, but the heartbroken mother was never able to find her.
“Eva and my mom never found each other,” Jean said.
Dora never made peace with the trauma of losing her firstborn child. “My mom had quite a few mental issues stemming from the Holocaust and the loss of a child," Jean said. "But she kept it together the best she could.”
Before Dora died in 1998, the sisters made a vow to their mother that they would continue her search for Eva. Over the years they searched through online databases, death records, files and anything they believed could help them find the older sister they never knew, but as time went on, it was getting more difficult.
“I assumed we would never find out what happened,” Jean said.
Then in April 2021 something remarkable happened.
Jean submitted her DNA through the genealogy platform MyHeritage, where she and her sister, Dena, learned they had a genetic match.
The match was a 53-year-old woman named Clare Reay from Newcastle, England.
Clare, who was always curious about her mother’s side of the family, told Inside Edition Digital that her son had bought her a MyHeritage kit for her birthday in 2020. After she submitted her DNA, she learned weeks later that there was a significant DNA match. The notification was followed up by an email informing her that she had an aunt.
“What does it mean? Is that real?” Clare said, noting she was a bit skeptical of the alert. "As far as my mom was concerned, she had nobody in the world, so that is what we always believed. Our brains never went any further than that. It was something were never ever considered. It was a closed door. Once we spoke and exchanged details and they sent a photograph of Dora, then we knew."
Clare was overcome with emotion and overjoyed of the news, but was also sad that her mother wasn't around to share in the joy of this magical time.
"It is almost two years now but when I think of it I still get quite emotional," Clare said of the revelation. “It was pure chance that my son bought me a DNA kit for my birthday. As it happens, we just used the same DNA company. None of us looked for it. It just happened.”
Jean had a similar reaction and described it as “unbelievable.” “The feeling of happiness and sadness was overwhelming,” Jean said. “Happiness because Eva survived, although she had passed, but we had a family. Sadness because Eva and my mom never found each other.”
Clare told Inside Edition Digital that her mother didn’t know anything about her family. She didn’t even know what her name was or the date she was born.
“As far as my mother was concerned, her family had perished in the war. The only documents she ever had was that she was born in Bergen-Belsen in 1945,” Clare said, referring to the Nazi concentration camp where more than 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed, including Margot and Anne Frank.
“She tried to find information but, there was no information to find," Clare said of her mother's search for her family. "She was told everything was destroyed at the end of the war and Bergen-Belsen was burnt down along with any records.”
Clare said the earliest memories her mother had was being in the orphanage in Israel. “Her mom was British. Her dad was Belgian. They adopted her in Israel. They took her to Belgium and brought her to the U.K,” Clare said, “From the way I understand it, she gave up after that.”
Though Clare's mother shared her story with her daughter, Clare was young and "didn't take it all in."
"I have so many questions now but she isn’t here to answer," she said.
A single photo of her mother as an infant with her grandmother, Dora, is the only known proof of Clare's mother's life with her biological family. “We did not know that even existed until two years ago," Clare said. "My mother never saw that. She never knew Dora existed."
Clare, who has an older brother and two younger sisters, said that her mother never went by the name Eva, and instead went by Evelyn or Ev.
In 2014, Clare's died from pancreatic cancer. “Unfortunately the worst thing about this is that everyone was out there ... she had sisters," Clare said.
In November after nearly two years of waiting, Clare finally got to meet Dena and Jean in-person by surprising them at their home in Ohio. Clare recalled the snowy and emotional cab ride to see her long-lost family members.
“I was crying in the car before we got to Jean's house but once we got there, I think the adrenaline took over; I was so hyper," she said.
The day was "such a blur," but Clare will never forget all the hugging that went on. "They were incredibly affectionate with me," she said.. “We just carried on for the whole time we were there. We had seen each other on Zoom so we actually all held it together that day. I thought we were pretty good."
Clare described her mother as a glamorous woman with an infectious personality who loved people and was always the “life of the party." Once she got to learn more about her grandmother, Dora, she was mesmerized by how similar her mother and grandmother were.
“When Dena and Jean talk about Dora, it is like they are talking about my mom. Sparkly, blonde, gregarious. They could have been twin sisters," Clare said. "The similarities are so incredible. They both like to play cards, and gamble and had husbands who doted on them no matter what they did."
The conversation between the aunts and their niece continued well into that evening and bled into the days thereafter. In all, their initial meeting lasted for two weeks before it was time for Clare to go home.
“We saw them every day. It was really nice being around them. They were telling me stories about Dora and about them growing up. They showed up at the house they grew up in and where they went to school, so you are much more aware of their lives,” Clare said. “It makes it a lot more real."
They plan to get together again in the U.K., where Clare lives.
“Hopefully this year. Fingers crossed,” Clare said. “They know it is their turn. They have to come,” she said as she laughed and cried in joy.