Behind Every Name a Story (BENAS) is a project of the Museum's Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center. The BENAS web project consists of essays describing survivors' experiences during the Holocaust.
Barbara's story: What's my name; who am I; who were my parents?
As a child, I survived the Holocaust in Poland. I have lived in Israel since 1950. I only learned that I was adopted at the age of 16 in 1958, and did not look for my biological family until 1996. The reason that I waited so long was because I was told by my adoptive parents that I was found close to a railroad station and that they knew nothing beyond this. The second reason was I did not feel I needed to look for other parents, as I was very beloved by my adoptive parents and I did not want to hurt them.
In April 1996, I read an article about a woman in Jerusalem, a historian, who had compiled lists of names of children who had lived in the Jewish orphanage in Otwock. This refreshed my childhood memories about being in this orphanage. By meeting with Lea Balint, I began my serious search of meeting with people and writing letters all over the world (imagine how difficult this was in the era before e-mail). Here is what I found out:
I was born in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942. I was smuggled out of the Ghetto (with the help of a German soldier or guard!) to the Aryan part of Warsaw at the end of 1942 or beginning of 1943. I was then about nine months old. It was before the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. My parents were a young, handsome couple; I imagine that perhaps they became Warsaw Ghetto fighters.
I was called Barbara. I had a certificate around my neck saying my name was Barbara Wenglinski. Barbara was my real name; Wenglinski may have been a fake name. (It may have been chosen because it was a Polish, as well as a Jewish surname).
I was handed over to a Christian woman, Charlotte Rebhun, who was married to a Jew and had lived in Berlin. Because she had a Jewish husband, Max Rebhun, she and her husband and two children were expelled to Poland. Her husband perished in Treblinka. Charlotte gave shelter to eight or more Jews. I lived with the family (at Krochmalna str' 33, Warsaw) until the Polish uprising in September 1944.
As a result of the uprising, Warsaw citizens were lead by foot out of the town, where a selection took place. We were then separated by force. Charlotte and her daughter, Adele (about 13 years old), were sent to a labor camp close to Chestohowa; her son, Wolfgang (about 17 years), was sent to Mauthausen. I was separated from Charlotte and left somewhere at the train station.
When my parents handed me over to Charlotte, they thought it was only for a short time until things got better. They said that if they would not return, Charlotte was to contact their rich family in the United States who would take care of me. However, I don't know what their name was. (I thought that it might be Wenglinski and sent around 70 letters to families in the USA with this name, but without any positive results).
Later (how long after; how I got there?) I was found in either an empty train wagon, or close to the rail station by a Red Cross attendant in the little town of Milanówek, about 20 kilometers from Warsaw. I told them in German that my name was Barbara Rebhun and that I was two and a half years old.
I was handed over to the Kaczmareks, a Polish Christian family. They were originally from Sieraków (close to Poznan), but had been expelled to the little town of Zyrardów. The Kaczmareks had five older children, but raised me as their child. I lived with the Kaczmareks in Zyrardów until the end of the war. At the end of the war, the Kaczmareks returned to their home town of Sieraków. I lived there with them until March 1948.
The Kaczmareks wanted to adopt me officially. They wrote to the CJC asking if someone from my biological family had survived. Instead of answering, the CJC sent someone who took me from the Kaczmareks by force and put me in the Jewish orphanage in Otwock (close to Warsaw).
I was adopted by a Jewish family, the Himels, in October 1948. In 1950 I went with the Himels to Israel.
In Germany, I met with Charlotte's children and their families, and in Poland I met with the Kaczmarek’s children and their families (the children were then about 75–80 years old and now only one of my German and Polish brothers and sisters is still alive). Both families have been honored as "Righteous Among the Nations."
We keep in touch and feel like a biological family, but still, I would like to know something about my birth family; to know, What's my name; who am I; who were my parents?
Please try to help me to fulfill my dream....
Related Map Links
Major ghettos in occupied Europe
Warsaw environs, 1940
Warsaw ghetto, 1940
Warsaw ghetto uprising, 1943
Warsaw ghetto uprising, 1943
The Warsaw Ghetto Animated Map
The Holocaust Animated Map