When my parents arrived for a visit a couple of weeks ago, my mother told me an amazing story about a good friend of hers that was reported in the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot (latest news). I asked for permission to tell the story, because I think it is truly fascinating and wanted to share it with as many people as possible.
The article was printed on July 8th, 2009 in the "24 Hours" section of the paper. The cover of the section has a big family picture with the title of this post as the headline. It then says "One day, at the age of 83, Meir Bachar found out that he has seven brothers and sisters of which he had never heard about before, and they knew nothing about him. How did it happen? His father, Ben-Zion, had a relationship during his marriage with his wife's sister. The result? An impossible reunion."
How about that for an intriguing headline? I won't translate the whole article or go through all the details, but here's the main story.
Meir "Maxi" Bachar witnesses Kristallnacht in Vienna on November 9th, 1938. His fair hair and blue eyes helped him blend in with the angry mob who rampaged through the Jewish quarters, looting, burning and destroying 95 synagogues in the Austrian capital. Maxi left for Israel shortly after at the age of 14 and a half and 71 years later he was on his way back to meet a family he never knew.
It all started with an email that his daughter got one day from her cousin in London, England, telling her about a letter they got from Vienna claiming that Maxi has a brother in Amsterdam and two sister in Vienna - all children of Ben-Zion Bachar and his aunt Malka "Miriam" Lindenaur, the sister of his mother Frida. All this was very confusing because the family had only known of one sister, Suzy Morris, that had lived and then passed away in London. Nobody had heard about other family members before.
Turns out that another cousin found amongst her late father's possessions a folder that had a note with Malka Lindenaur's name on it along with her seven children. One of those names was her 82 year old mother's. And she also recognized another name of a woman who was supposedly a distant friend of her mother's. This cousin dug deep into the Vienna archives and realized that her mother was adopted along with her six siblings and they were all the children of Ben-Zion Bachar and Malka. Only three of the seven were still alive.
Almost a year later Maxi flew to Amsterdam to meet his brother Herman Kolomoyer. Their birth certificates show that they were born in the same house to two sisters who were involved with the same man. The father's identity was purposefully omitted from Herman's birth certificate as well as the other 6 illegitimate children. Even though he fathered 7 children with Malka, he refused to have any relationship with them and sent them one by one to orphanages for adoption. From his legal wife he only had two children, Maxi and Suzy.
Like the rest of the children, Herman was sent to an orphanage at the age of 2 and was supposed to be sent to a family in South Africa, but the war broke out and he was placed with a Christian Dutch family instead. Even though his birth certificate noted that his mother was Jewish and Herman found out about it at a young age, he hid this detail from the rest of his family and later on from his daughters as well. The two sisters in Vienna also had no idea that they came from a Jewish family and had lived their entire lives as Christians.
It turns out that growing up in Vienna, the family was poor and lived in a two room apartment. In one were Ben-Zion and his wife Frida, in the other was Frida's sister Malka and the children slept in the kitchen. The father was a gambler and a drunk who abused his children and did not provide for them. Maxi remembers looking for his father in card clubs and bars in order to get some money for food. He does not have fond memories of his father at all.
In 1938 his father was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp and Maxi was spared because of his mother's pleading. His sister was later sent to London and in 1940 he left for Israel with other Jewish children on a long trip through Yugoslavia, Saloniki, Turkey, Beirut and Damascus. At the age of 17 he joined the British Army. According to some testimony, his mother, Frida, and her sister, Malka, both perished in the Holocaust, but in 1945 while serving in Italy he found out that his father had survived and remarried. So he went to see him in Vienna.
In 1959 his father's new wife called to let him know that he was very sick. Overcoming his tough childhood memories and dislike of his father, Maxi stayed by hi bedside for three months. During all this time, Ben-Zion never said a word about all the orphaned siblings that were given up for adoption. Surprisingly he has no recollection of any of the children his aunt had with his father, even though most of them were born after him. Maxi has no way to explain why his mother stayed with his father or why her sister kept living with them all those years.
I think this is a fascinating story. Since the mothers of all these children were sisters, this keeps the gene pool intact. Would a DNA test be able to prove that there were different mothers or would they look like real siblings? My own great-grandfather, Avraham Smorgonski, married two sisters, Ester and Henia Segalchik. But that was only after Ester passed away and not behind her back.