Hellman finds family who survived Shoah

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

When Lisa Hellman spoke at the Yom HaShoah Community Commemoration last April she told the gathering she was “the sole survivor” of her family. Less than a month later she was shocked and delighted to learn that was not entirely a true statement.

Hellman had spent many years after the war trying to find other family members who might have survived the atrocities of the Holocaust. She registered as a survivor and provided all the information to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum in Israel). She never received any responses or inquiries.

“Then my granddaughter Basya Samuels, who lives in California asked me if I had ever registered my mother’s maiden name,” Hellman said. “I told her I didn’t see the point, but she was welcome to include the information.”

The family received a response from someone living in Israel. Samuels called Israel to verify the information and relationship and discovered there was another family member who had survived the war.

“Basya called me and said ‘Safta, I found your once-removed first cousin who lives in Israel,'” Hellman said. “I almost passed out.”

Hellman’s uncle, her mother’s brother, had a daughter named Zina. Though the two girls were first cousins they never really knew each other because Zina was 14 years older than Hellman. Zina survived the war and went to live in Israel, got married and had a son and a daughter. She thought she was the only one of her family who had survived. Her husband had registered the family at Yad Vashem in October 1956.

“My parents didn’t talk about the Holocaust so I don’t know a lot about their experiences,” Zina’s son Yossi Maoz said.

Maoz and his wife Gili were recently visiting their daughter Meital who lives in Chicago and came down to St. Louis to meet Hellman for the first time. It was a day filled with conversation, connection, looking over the family tree and trying to fill in the missing pieces.

“That’s a family, we closed the circle,” Yossi said.

Hellman was able to fill him in on many details. She was preparing for her first visit back to see her childhood home in Brest-Litovsk which is now known as Brest, Belarus. The home is empty and still technically owned by Hellman. She is hoping to be able to explore it and perhaps find something left behind from her life there. She obtained a current photo of the house from the daughter of a survivor who had contacted her.

The daughter wrote to Hellman through the USHMM. She was looking to discover the identity of her mother who as an infant survived the liquidation of the ghetto through a strange set of circumstances.

“She had been hidden by her mother under a feather bed,” Hellman said. “The Nazis stabbed the bed looking for hidden Jews and injured her throat. She couldn’t cry and therefore wasn’t discovered. Ironically, it saved her life.”

The infant was discovered by a couple when townspeople were looting the home looking for Jewish valuables.

They took the baby girl into their home, nursed her back to health and hid her until the liberation and finally told her about her true identity when she turned 18 years old. The only thing they knew about her was the address of the home and the name on the door. It was down the street from Hellman’s childhood home.

The photo of her home brought back sweet and painful memories. She is anxious about returning after so many years.

“I don’t know quite how I am going to feel,” Hellman said. “But, I am grateful for the opportunity to make this trip and quite blessed to have discovered my family.”

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