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< Echoes of Memory

Where Are You, Tola?


by Julie Keefer

I last held you when you were six months old and I was almost three. It was March 1943, a time of war, Nazis, and unthinkable persecution of our people. To give you, my sister, a chance to live, Dziadzio changed your name from “Tola Weinstock,” a Jew, to “Antonina Nowicka,” a Catholic. You were fair-haired, with our father’s blue eyes, so you could easily pass as a Catholic Polish child. He took you to Dr. Groer’s Catholic orphanage and paid them to keep you safe.

At the end of the war, in 1945, Dziadzio went back to the orphanage for you. He discovered that in the spring of 1944, the orphanage was damaged in an air raid, so the 80 children and accompanying nuns were moved 100 kilometers from L’viv to Korczyn, near Skole.

In January 1945, when Dziadzio went to Korczyn to find you, he was told that all the children had been taken to Lawoczne, toward Munkács in Hungary. He could not obtain papers from the Russians to enter this zone.

I felt incomplete without you, Tola. Dziadzio always insisted that I had a baby sister and that we’d be reunited with you soon. When he sent me to America for a “better future” in 1948, his search for you continued. He and Babcia remained in a displaced persons camp. He kept on looking for you. Even when he and Babcia came to America in 1950, he continued his quest. He had contacted the Red Cross, and in 1952—when I was 10 or 11—the Red Cross mailed me a black-and-white photo of a girl about nine years old, with the large, dreamy, light eyes of our father. She had a huge bow on top of her chin-length, lightish hair.

I was ecstatic! I carried that one-and-a-half- by three-inch photo everywhere. I kept taking it out of my pocket and staring at it. My sister! My sister was alive, and I would meet her soon! The photo became tattered and the corners crinkled from constant handling.

One day, a taxi showed up, and my social worker told me I was going to University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, to get a blood test. I don’t remember getting jabbed or anything about that hospital experience. I just remember that my social worker called me into her office two weeks later.

“I’m sorry, Julia. This girl is not your sister,” she said. “The Red Cross said that her blood did not match."

There was a huge hole in my belly. I doubled over. How was this possible? Who was the girl in my photo? I had prayed and prayed to be reunited with my sister, but G-d did not hear me. G-d had let me down.

It was too painful to continue believing that I’d find you, so I packed my thoughts about you into a tiny package and stored it in my heart. I did not want to be disappointed anymore. I did not want to ache anymore. I have kept that memory tucked away in my heart.

For the next 60-plus years—through adoption, marriage, motherhood, and grandmotherhood— I have tried not to think about you, rationalizing, how does one trace a six-month-old baby whose name and religion were changed in the chaos of war and the confusion afterward? But, my rationalization does not help to heal the throbbing hole in my heart.

Where are you, my baby sister? Where are you, Tola?

©2017, Julie Keefer. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10julie keeferlife after the holocaustfamilymemory

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