Although Jonny Shyk believed his father died in the war, he later learned that his mother once met him secretly years after the war to finalize their divorce.
Holocaust has affected the entire world in some way or the other. However, its biggest impact was on the Jewish communities who suffered the biggest genocide known to humankind during World War II. During these times, several children were separated from their families and parents and many who survived spent much—if not all—all of their lives not knowing whether their loved ones were still alive.
Jonny Shyk was one of them as he believed for years that his father had abandoned their family and died during the war. Shyk was born on July 25, 1939, in Berlin to a Jewish family and he was sent to Theresienstadt or Terezín, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic along with his mother Vera Modufsky in 1943, reports TODAY. His brother, Manfred, had died in the war until then.
Shyk's son, Todd, a history teacher said of the concentration camp: "The whole thing was a ruse put on for the International Red Cross that visited the camp." According to Todd, Terezín received many prisoners who were skilled artisans, scholars and musicians, as well as individuals whose parents or even themselves had fought in World War I. Terezín was liberated by Russian forces in 1945. Shyk was only six-year-old when he stepped outside the concentration camp.
Following their liberation, Shyk and his mother were transported to a Displaced Persons (DP) camp. While traveling in a cattle car from the concentration camp, Jonny's mother met David Itzyk, who became her second husband. Although Shyk's stepfather had worked as a tailor for the Nazis and survived Auschwitz, his first wife and all of his four children were killed. Shyk said, "I believe my stepfather stayed alive because he could use a needle and thread."
Shyk and his family moved to the United States in 1950 and he was admitted to a public school in New York. He found school to be challenging as he had spent his formative years in concentration camps. He recalled, "When I was 17, I dropped out. At that point, I had certain choices—getting in trouble or joining the service—and I joined the service."
My latest for @TODAYshow is an emotional story about a man who survived the Holocaust, then discovered a secret family: ‘I won the lottery’ https://t.co/cXurBp4xY4— Kait Hanson (@ByKaitHanson) April 17, 2023
Shyk's mother and stepfather returned to Germany shortly after he joined the Air Force. In 1962, he met Patricia, his future wife, and they married soon after. They had four sons named John Michael, Jeff, Todd and Jeremy, and as Shyk pursued his military career, the family moved around the country before eventually settling in central Pennsylvania in 1974. However, it wasn't until 2010 that he got some shocking news about his father.
He and his half-brother Harry were able to find out that Shyk's father survived the war, thanks to the detailed records kept by the Nazis. Shyk also discovered that he had a half-sister named Marlis who lived in Germany. Todd said, "That he was able to know his name, know that he actually survived the war and know that he then married after the war and had a child is incredible."
However, the shocking news didn't stop there as he discovered that his mother knew his father was alive but never informed him. She met him once after the war to finalize their divorce papers which he had no idea about.
Found this at a used bookstore. Children's drawings from Terezin Concentration Camp. I think I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make work as good as this. #kidlitart pic.twitter.com/QJP52s7AOG— Keith Negley (@keithnegley) October 1, 2019
In 2015, Shyk had a trip planned to meet his half-sister Marlis in Germany. However, he almost canceled the trip at the last minute as he had a panic attack in his hotel room and believed he was experiencing a heart attack. He recalled, "She knew about me, but I had no idea she even existed. Most of my conversations with my mother about the war were very minimal. There was only a few things that my mother ever told me about it."
For Todd, the entire process of seeing his father discover his family after surviving the Holocaust was emotional. He said, "It made you realize all the different things that parents did to shield their kids. Going from being a child, to then being a parent, and hearing what your (own) parent did for you... it opens up a whole new area of empathy. (As a kid) he didn't understand the brutality of it."
Shyk met his two step-siblings and keeps in touch with them regularly. He has even met his cousin who was able to escape Germany before the war and is happy that all the missing pieces of his life are finally in place. He said, "I think that I have actually won the lottery. A lot of times I see people at different stores buying these raffle tickets and I think, 'You know what? I won.' I am not bitter."