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Orphaned Holocaust survivor reunited with family after 83 years

Extraordinary tale of family reunion as DNA test leads 83-year-old to discover his long-lost family

Lydia Patrick
Saturday 27 January 2024 19:24 GMT
Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates survivors

A man who was orphaned in the Holocaust and smuggled out of Nazi-occupied Warsaw has been reunited with his long-lost family at the age of 83.

In 1941, Shalom Koray was discovered as an abandoned baby in the Warsaw ghetto by a Jewish teacher and psychologist, Lena Kuchler-Silberman, who gave him the name Piotr Korczak and bravely smuggled him out with four other toddlers.

Ms Kuchler-Silberman arranged for the children to be homed in orphanages at cloisters in Poland. After the Second World War, she arranged for them to live in her orphanage in Zakopane.

Mr Koray emmigrated to Israel in March 1949 and changed his name from Piotr Korczak to Shalom Koray, which means “peace”.

A father of three and a grandfather of eight, he spent most of his life living at a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, working as a truck driver but with no knowledge of his past.

Shalom was discovered as an abandoned baby in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and smuggled out (MyHeritage/MyHeritage DNA )

He said: “You can’t start searching for something you know nothing about.

“I didn’t even have the tip of a thread. Even my birth name is unknown.

“I didn’t know anything. If not for a DNA test, there’s nothing. I don’t know my real name, no one knows.

“When someone is born blind, he has never seen anything. He doesn’t know what he is missing. I was born into this reality and never knew anything else. I didn’t even know the concept of parents. I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

In the summer of 2023, a professor at Jagiellonian University in Warsaw gave Mr Koray a MyHeritage DNA test as part of her research on the 100 children saved by Ms Kuchler-Silberman.

In September 2023, on the other side of the world, Ann Hellman, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, received a match with a second cousin but had no idea who he was.

Ann Hellman, who lives in the US state of South Carolina, matched with Shalom from the other side of the world (MyHeritage/ MyHeritage DNA)

As an enthusiastic family historian, 77-year-old Ms Hellman started to delve deeper and asked her cousin, Jeanmarie Fields Hostein, to upload her DNA to the MyHeritage site.

His DNA matched Ms Fields Hostein’s, confirming Mr Koray was part of her father’s side of the family.

Ms Hellman said: “We have all thought that this branch of the family was wiped out. Finding Shalom is a miracle.”

Research after the discovery showed Ann’s great-uncle, Yadidia Mednitsky, was Mr Koray’s grandfather. Yadidia’s brother was Ann’s paternal grandfather, Abrahm Louis Mednitzky Meddin, who moved to the US in 1893 with his family.

The whole family in the US was certain that Yadidia and his entire family were murdered in the Holocaust, and no one survived.

For Mr Koray, this is the first information he has ever got about his family and identity. Through the DNA match, he now has a very large extended family in the US.

Shalom with a MyHeritage researcher – a professor at Jagiellonian University in Warsaw gave Mr Koray a MyHeritage DNA test as part of her research (My Heritage/MyHeritageDNA)

The family connection became crystal clear when Ms Hellman received Mr Koray’s photo, who she says looked the spitting image of her younger brother Stuart, who lives in Atlanta.

Ms Hellman believes Shalom bears a close resemblance to her younger brother Stuart (left) (MyHeritage/MyHeritageDNA)

The pair have had several telephone conversations and video chats and plan to have a big celebration in July to honour Mr Koray joining the family.

Ms Hellman said: “He is going to meet so many family members resembling him.

“I gave a Holocaust survivor a family, and for months I get goosebumps when I think about it. I can’t wait to put my arm around Mr Koray and hug him close to my heart.”

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