Family is a blessing, even during holidays

Imagine spending most of your life thinking you’re alone in the world because your family has been obliterated by a madman.

But at age 102, Eliahu Pietruszka experienced what is tantamount to a miracle: He met a family member he had not known existed until quite recently.

As told in a poignant Associated Press story, Pietruszka is a Holocaust survivor who thought his whole family had died during Adolph Hitler’s reign of terror. Pietruszka had fled Poland at the start of World War II.

But in what was stunning, heartwarming news, the 102-year-old met Alexandre Pietruszka, age 66 — his nephew. Alexandre is the son of Eliahu Pietruszka’s younger brother, Volf, who had indeed survived the Holocaust.

Alexandre flew from a remote section of Russia to see his uncle, who lives in Israel.

As explained in the AP story, the family reunion was made possible by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial’s comprehensive online database of Holocaust victims, a genealogy tool credited with reuniting hundreds of long-lost relatives.

In 1939, Eliahu Pietruszka, then 24, left Warsaw, Poland, as World War II began. He left behind his parents and his twin brothers, who were nine years younger. Eliahu Pietruszka’s parents and brother Zelig were killed in a Nazi Death camp but Volf was able to escape the Nazis. He and Eliahu corresponded, but then Volf was sent to a Siberian work camp and Eliahu thought Volf had died there.

“In my heart, I thought he was no longer alive,” Pietruszka said in the AP story. Eliahu married in Russia and migrated to Israel in 1949 to start a new life, thinking the rest of his family was dead.

Then the miracle happened. Eliahu’s grandson, Shakhar Smorodinsky, received an email from a Canadian cousin who was working on her family tree, uncovering a Yad Vashem page of testimony filled out in 2005 by Volf Pietruszka for his older brother Eliahu, who he thought had died.

Volf had survived and settled in Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains. Smorodinsky tracked down an address and discovered Volf had died in 2011 but that Alexandre, his only child, was still there. After Smorodinsky arranged a Skype chat, Alexandre decided to go to see the uncle he never knew he had.

“It makes me so happy that at least one remnant remains from my brother, and that is his son,” said Eliahu Pietruszka, tears welling in his eyes. “After so many years I have been granted the privilege to meet him.”

With Thanksgiving coming in a few days, this story is a gentle reminder to count family chief among one’s blessings, even if there have been problems within your tribe.

Eliahu Pietruszka spent most of his life thinking his family was lost, only to be granted a chance to hold a surprise relative near.

As Pietruszka, a retired microbiologist and great-grandfather of 10, told The Associated Press: “I am overjoyed. This shows it is never too late. People can always find what they are looking for if they try hard enough.

“I succeeded.”