By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
This is the time of year when even the most cynical among us talk about miracles without apology. It is the season whose unifying theme for Jews, Christians and Messianics is divine light that guides, illuminates, comforts, and defies tyranny. With Hanukkah starting on December 12, it seems fitting to tell the story of an inner light that was nearly extinguished, and as of this week is burning afresh in the heart of a centenarian and his senior citizen nephew. This inward menorah, this light of love and the miraculous reunion that occurred between a Holocaust survivor and his nephew is dear beyond words, and a fitting way to usher in the Season of Light.
Eliahu Pietruszka, 102 years old, fled Poland at the age of 24, believing his entire family had perished in the camps. While it was true that he lost both of his parents and one brother who had a twin, one of the twins whose name was Vovik had survived, and believed that Eliahu had perished. Vovik had escaped from a Siberian work camp. Eliahu moved to Israel in 1949, one year after that nation was “born in a day,” and now lives there in a retirement home. Vovik passed away in 2011, having lived the rest of his life in Russia as a construction worker, and had a son, André, who is now 66. Through the relentless search by André; a mutual cousin named Hagit Weinstein Mikanovsky, as well as Eliahu’s grandson,
Shakar; and facilitated by the Yad Vashem database of Holocaust survivors, along with an online video of Eliahu’s 100th birthday, dots were connected and puzzle pieces came together. At last, Eliahu and André were able to meet for the first time. The video of that family restoration is truly touching, and then to have them meet with other surviving family members who had been previously unknown to each other is nearly unbearably wonderful.
Visibly choked up, Eliahu said, “It makes me so happy that at least one remnant remains from my brother, and that is his son. After so many years I have been granted the privilege to meet him.”
Debbie Berman, a Yad Vashem official who came to the reunion, felt that same sense of privilege and awe, and commented, “I feel like we are kind of touching a piece of history.”
I have visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum which is located in Jerusalem, and whose painstaking commitment to find as many survivors as possible is part of this miracle. As difficult and sobering as it is to be reminded of one of the darkest periods in the history of man, one leaves there with a strange resiliency and resolve to live life well, to take nothing for granted, and to refuse to succumb to fear. I hope I get a chance to go back someday, because my life changed in that building.
I guess another way of putting it is that light was meant to be stronger than darkness, if we let it. And let us burn brightly within during the holidays and beyond, no matter what darkness threatens to snuff us out.