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Cousins separated during the Holocaust reunite 75 years later: 'We've got each other now'

"We cried and cried and cried and cried. We couldn’t get one word out," a family member said of the duo's meeting.

Cousins separated during the Holocaust reunite 75 years later: 'We've got each other now'
Cover Image Source: Facebook/Leetal Ofer Shalik

For 75 years, Morris Sana lived with the belief that his cousin and best friend Simon Mairowitz had died during the Holocaust. Every attempt to search for his long-lost pal had proved futile and without any communication from Mairowitz's end either, Sana inevitably assumed that his cousin was one of the over 6 million Jewish lives claimed by the Nazis in World War II. That is, until several decades later when his daughter Carmela Ofer reconnected with some relatives on Facebook. This proved to be an invaluable turning point for the family as it led to an unforgettable reunion between Sana and Mairowitz.

"We were an emotional wreck, that is what we were," Ofer told Good Morning America. She revealed that her cousin Carol Ritter Elbaz, who lives in Houston, called her in September 2019 to inform her that she'd found relatives in England who are "alive and well." This revelation was shocking for Ofer and Sana, as this side of the family was listed as "perished" in the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust's victims. The discovery came about after Elbaz placed an ad on JewishGen while working on her family's genealogy and it caught the attention of her previously unknown cousin Gemma Brown in England.



 

A DNA test revealed a match between Ofer, Brown, and her mother, Alison O'Callaghan — Mairowitz's daughter. "It all fell into place," said Ofer. When Elbaz sent her pictures of Mairowitz, Ofer instantly knew that he was family. "I immediately recognized him because he looks exactly like my dad," she said. Ofer and O'Callaghan then connected via FaceTime in what they said was an emotional phone call. The duo confessed to each other that they had spent years searching for the other. "We cried and cried and cried and cried. We couldn’t get one word out," Ofer said.



 

When Ofer informed her dad, Sana, that Mairowitz and his family were alive and well, he couldn't believe his ears. "He said, 'It couldn’t be. They’re listed as perished in the Holocaust!'" Ofer said. Coincidentally, both families were headed to Israel in a few days and deciding that it was finally time to be reunited, they changed their tickets to match each other's dates. Sana and Mairowitz's emotional reunion was captured in a now-viral video that's been viewed over 214k times on Facebook.



 

The entire family cried tears of happiness as Sana walked in and embraced Mairowitz. Sana said he last remembered seeing Mairowitz in Romania in 1943 or 1944 while the war was still going on. His brothers had already been killed by Nazis at that point and Sana narrowly escaped with his sister and mother. Ofer believes her father survived because he was a blonde, blue-eyed boy with "Aryan" features. She revealed that when talking about the close to two years they spent fleeing, her father would recall how he, his mother, and sister would often sleep in between dead bodies in the day so as not to get caught. The trio mostly traveled at night.



 

"You have to understand these are little kids, you know? Hungry, hungry little kids, escaping and living in fear," she said. They finally arrived at a refugee camp in Italy and stayed there for six months until family members from her grandfather's side smuggled them into Paris. After spending a few years in Paris, they shifted to Israel. Meanwhile, Mairowitz and his sister, Betty, escaped with the help of an English colonel. Upon arriving in England, Mairowitz was placed into foster care. He grew up Catholic while Sana was raised Jewish. At the time of their escapes, Sana was 11 or 12 and Mairowitz was 10. They reunited as 87 and 85-year-olds. The families commemorate their emotional reunion in Israel, by driving to Yad Vashem to change their records in the archives. "We changed their status from perished to survivor," Ofer said.

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