For many years, my family and I longed to know what had become of my mother’s youngest sister, Laja Minc. There were five Minc sisters, one of whom, the second youngest, perished in the Holocaust; the other four survived the war. My mother and her two elder sisters spent the war years in Russia, but Laja, the youngest, suffered through the horrific war years in concentration camps. By all accounts, she survived through sheer determination and strong will. My family and I always thought of her fondly. We were told by some other survivors that she had indeed survived the war and had a son and that they had gone to America. We did not know what had happened to them there.
My father died in Russia in 1943. My mother returned to Poland with my sister, Clara, and me in 1945, and we lived in a small town until 1959. An amazing event happened to us while there. In 1952, we received an enormous parcel from the United States containing clothing. It was like manna from heaven and of great help to us as we possessed very little at that time. We wanted to express our gratitude, but there was no sender’s address, and we could only guess that it might have come from my mother’s sister, Laja.
We inquired from a contact we had living in New York, a man called Abram Feldman, who had come from the same hometown in Poland. He strongly advised us not to try to find Laja; in fact, he told us to forget all about her, not to find out what happened to her. We lived in a communist country, and we decided to heed his advice, fearing that Laja may have gotten into trouble—either politically, or mentally, or criminally—all of which might have had repercussions for us. The years went by. My mother, Clara and I moved to Australia in 1959. Clara and I both married and had families of our own. Our mother died in 1990, not knowing whether or not Laja still was alive.
In 1995, we decided to try again to find this missing link in our family. We lodged inquiries with the Australian Red Cross, with HIAS in New York and with Yad Vashem, but to no avail. My sister Clara died in 1997, but I decided to continue the search. The eldest Minc sister had died in 1971 and the next eldest in 1994, so, if Laja were alive, she was the only one left of her generation.
When my daughter immigrated to New York with her family later in 1997, I asked her to locate Abram Feldman in New York, which she did. He told her then that Laja had killed a woman in the mid-1950s and had spent many years in prison, but was still alive and living with her son in the state of Indiana. Again, I contacted various Jewish organizations, but learned nothing.
In 1999, I went to New York to visit my daughter and her family and tried to contact Abram Feldman myself. Unfortunately, he had died a few months earlier, and our only lead was lost. I visited the New York Public Library in Manhattan, but I had no idea how do a search and came away with nothing.
A few years later, in November 2005, my husband and I again went to New York to visit our daughter and her new family in Seagate, Brooklyn. Our eldest son, Paul, came from Israel at the same time, and I asked him to try yet again to search for Laja at the New York Public Library. He was more experienced than I, having, some years earlier, researched the family tree.
In the Los Angeles Times from 1956, Paul found considerable information about Laja, her son and their lives in Los Angeles. We learned that Laja had been a housekeeper, and the Hollywood matron for whom she had worked had been murdered. Laja had been accused of the crime and, after two harrowing years of interrogations, had suffered a mental breakdown. She had spent time in a mental hospital until she had finally been declared sane and was committed to stand trial. Her son, whose name we now learned was Alex, was 11 years old at that time and had spent that period in a Jewish children’s home. Laja had been found not guilty and had spent no time in prison. So, the information Feldman had given to my daughter in 1995 was wrong. The newspaper clipping featured a photograph of Laja, and one could clearly make out the concentration camp number on her arm.
We did not know where to look next. I consulted Miriam Shifreen and others connected with the Australian Jewish Genealogy Society in Sydney, made an Internet inquiry to the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library in Salt Lake City and spent a further 12 months tirelessly searching the Internet. Despite the valuable information and assistance given, it was all to no avail. Our search included the International Tracing Service, various Jewish federations throughout the United States and the Claims Conference organization in New York. A friend of our family, who lives in Los Angeles, also searched there on our behalf. I even telephoned a few police stations in various Los Angeles suburbs. None of them was able to shed any light on Laja’s whereabouts.
In 2006, my son, Paul, and his family temporarily left Israel to live in Camden, South Carolina. On a whim, Paul wrote to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC, with the vital information he had discovered in 2005—the concentration camp number tattooed on Laja’s arm. This number uncovered the information that we had been seeking for so long. Sadly, we discovered that Laja had died in 2000, never having reconnected with her sisters. But what about her son? Several years earlier, Laja’s son, Alex, had registered his mother with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC. By pure chance, the woman at USHMM who received Paul’s letter remembered a conversation that she had with Alex some years earlier. She immediately forwarded my son’s letter to Alex, and it was a day that Alex says he will never forget. As his wife put it: “What an extraordinary time it has been since I passed on the letter from Paul to Alex that famous Sunday. I do not have to tell you that he has been so happy and on Cloud 9, as they say.”
Alex immediately telephoned Paul, and I finally talked with him on Monday, October 30, 2006. After years of knowing that his mother had sisters who also survived the Holocaust, we, the next generation, had connected. Alex has since told us a great deal about their lives. He and his mother had left Los Angeles soon after the end of the infamous trial. They frequently moved from place to place, as Laja was very restless and could not settle down, finally settling in Seattle.
Alex spells his surname Mintz now. He and his wife, as well as his two daughters from his first marriage, have become integral members of our family. They all have led interesting and full lives, and the various nuclear families are learning about each others’ past and present histories. Everyone has a story to tell, and it will, no doubt, take some time for the newly found family to connect with all the cousins and their families, but at last it has become possible. We have mutual cousins living in Israel, the sons of one of the Minc sisters, as well as extended Minc family there. The new bond has enriched the life of everyone. It’s a dream come true.
Alex expressed his sentiments:
I am still in tears and shock. This is the most momentous day that I have ever had. I cannot express the emotions and feelings that are running through my brain….It’s a dream come true, I could never have imagined what the feeling would be like to finally have contact with even a remote family member, let alone the whole extended family….This is so overwhelming, it is indescribable. I feel like someone who has been lost in a wilderness for all these years and suddenly found. I am very sorry that Laja and her sisters never had a chance to reunite during their lives.
Alex’s daughter wrote:
I am so excited as I write this that my fingers can barely feel the keyboard. To think that, after all these years, I have such a large extended family! I am overjoyed….This is the happiest of days. After so long, to find out that we have so much more family. I only wish Gramma Laja had lived long enough to learn about you all. She was so angry and bitter when I knew her. But she was a survivor and one of my biggest heroes. I miss her terribly.
On April 17, 2007, I traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, a two-hour drive from Seattle, to meet Alex, his wife and his two daughters. The meeting was joyous and bonding. That’s when the long journey of our “search and find” was completed. Now that we have told our stories to each other, suffice to say that, despite the many lives lost and all the tragedies, hardships and upheavals all the family suffered in the past, the children, grandchildren and now the great-grandchildren of the Minc sisters will ensure that the family’s history will be preserved and that there will be family continuity for generations to come.
I have written this story to encourage others not to give up hope. Keep on searching, because miracles do happen.
Rosa Leventhal lives in Australia.
Avotaynu 2007; 23(4):27-28
Copyright © 2008 Avotaynu, Inc.