Instead of closure, Holocaust survivor George Gordon got one hell of an opening.
For 60 years he thought he was his family’s sole Holocaust survivor. As a teenager Gordon (born Jerzy Budzynski) fought the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which is where he saw his father and younger brother shot dead by SS soldiers. As for his mother and sister, the German Red Cross said they could find no trace they survived and so he assumed they were dead. For 60 years. I repeat, for 60 years he thought they were dead.
In 2002 two of Gordon’s friends enlisted the help of the Red Cross’s War Victims Tracing Service on his behalf, hoping to help him achieve closure.
“He was looking for graves,” Red Cross volunteer Tammy Kaiser told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “He never was looking for living people. The only reason he even began searching was just to find out where they were buried so that one day he could visit and pay his respects.”
All paths led to dead-ends until Polish researchers discovered a simple newspaper obituary from 1979. It was for Gordon’s mother, Janina. And it mentioned only one survivor, her daughter Krystyna.
“Gordon, who has seen men burned in crematoria, been shot and tortured, recounts war horrors matter-of-factly,” writes the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Only when speaking of the night he heard his sister’s voice for the first time in 59 years does his voice waver.”
“‘Krystyna, this is Jerik,’ he said, using his childhood nickname over the telephone to Poland.”
On September 26, 2003, they saw each other again for the first time in 60 years. They met in the lobby of the Hotel Monopol in Wroclaw, Poland, where Hitler had once shouted speeches from the balcony.
Gordon describes his first glimpse: “‘These two women walked in, my sister and her daughter,’ Gordon said, gazing at the diary he kept during his year at Buchenwald. ‘I wouldn’t have recognized her if we’d passed each other on the street — to me she was always a 12-year-old girl — but when I heard her voice, I knew it was her.'”
While this warms my heart immensely, it also makes me sad that he never got to see his mother again. And that she died not knowing he had survived. According to the article, Gordon is not Jewish. He, his father and brother took part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but they weren’t Jewish.