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77 Years After the Holocaust, DNA Test Connects Survivor with Descendants of Surviving Relatives

Eva Szepesi was just 7 years old when World War II broke out and turned her life upside down.

Living in Pesterzsébet, a district of Budapest, Hungary, with her parents Valeria and Karoly and her little brother Tamás, the shadow of Nazi Germany grew darker each day. Finally, a few years into the war, Eva’s aunt informed her that they were leaving — just like that. Where would they go? What about Eva’s parents? All Eva was told was that her mother needed to stay behind with her brother, who was too young to travel, and that her father had already left to “work.” She later learned that he had been sent to a forced labor camp. She never got to say goodbye.

Eva as a baby with her mother, Valeria

Eva as a baby with her mother, Valeria

Eva and her little brother Tamás (photo enhanced on MyHeritage)

Eva and her little brother Tamás (photo enhanced on MyHeritage)

Eva’s family had purchased a fictitious ID for her: the passport of a neighbor of theirs named Maria. To ensure that no one would know the truth of her identity, Eva was instructed not to speak at all and to pretend she was deaf and mute. She and her aunt walked for 11 hours through the forest until they crossed the border to Slovakia.

Their destination was a village called Nové Mesto nad Váhom. There, the local rabbi was charged with finding a family to take Eva, and Eva’s aunt left. Eva was brought into the home of a family of strangers, and there she lived for a while until the family was no longer able to keep her. She was transferred to another place within the village, and stayed until November 1944, when the Nazis caught up with her. Eva was taken to the Sered concentration camp in Slovakia, the departure point for a second wave of Jews expelled from Slovakia and scattered to various locations. One of their destinations was Auschwitz, and that’s where Eva was sent.

Eva as a child (photo repaired and enhanced on MyHeritage)

Eva as a child (photo repaired and enhanced on MyHeritage)

Eva survives Auschwitz

And so, on November 2, 1944, Eva arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau: a 12-year-old girl, completely alone. While she waited at the infamous entrance to the camp, a woman she didn’t know turned to her and said, “You must tell them that you are 16. Don’t tell them that you are younger.”

Indeed, when her turn came, the Germans asked for her name, birthplace, and age. At first, she didn’t know what to say, but then she decided to follow the woman’s advice and answered without thinking: “I’m 16.”

That last-minute decision may very well have saved her life. The Nazis sent her to work; if they had known she was only 12, she may have been sent to the gas chambers instead. Eva later searched for the mysterious woman who had likely saved her life with this advice so she could thank her, but she never found her.

The Nazis tattooed the number A26877 on Eva’s arm. But for 12-year-old Eva, the worst thing was that they shaved off her beautiful hair.

Eva spent several terrible months at Auschwitz. On January 18, the Nazis retreated from the advancing Russian army and took the remaining survivors with them on a death march, abandoning those who were thought too weak to survive the journey. Eva was among those left behind.

There she stayed until Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945. Eva was found in the cold, among the corpses, starving and thirsty after not having anything to eat or drink for more than a week. She was one of only 400 children to have survived the concentration camps.

Returning to Hungary

Once the war was over, displaced people began to return to Hungary. Lists of returning citizens were posted at the train stations so their family members would know to expect them. Eva’s name appeared on one of these lists, and her uncle Imre Hegedüs and aunt Olga were waiting for her when she arrived. They took her home and told her that from now on, she would be their daughter.

She was afraid to ask what had happened to her parents. She was still a young girl; perhaps she imagined that as long as she didn’t hear the worst possible news, the fear of losing her parents would not become reality.

Not much was left for Eva. She had no family and no home, and most of her family photos were gone. But one photo did survive, a photo that featured her uncles.

This photo would play a key role in the discovery of unknown family members in Israel many years later.

left to right: bottom row, Eva’s mother Valeria, her brother Tamas, Eva, and Eva’s father Karoly Diamant. Top row: Eva’s uncles Zoltan and Oszkar Lowy

left to right: bottom row, Eva’s mother Valeria, her brother Tamas, Eva, and Eva’s father Karoly Diamant. Top row: Eva’s uncles Zoltan and Oszkar Lowy

In the photo, left to right: bottom row, Eva’s mother Valeria, her brother Tamas, Eva, and Eva’s father Karoly Diamant. Top row: Eva’s uncles Zoltan and Oszkar Lowy

A family of her own

After the war, Eva began to work in Budapest as a seamstress. At work, she met the man who later became her husband: Andor “Bandi” Szepesi. The pair moved in together and married in 1951, when Eva was 19.

Eva and her husband, Andor

Eva and her husband, Andor

In 1952, their eldest daughter, Judith, was born. Four years later, in October 1956, the Hungarian Revolution broke out: a grassroots uprising against the influence of the Soviet Union in Hungary. Due to the situation in Hungary, Andor, who was a furrier, received a job offer in Germany — and the family relocated.

In 1964, Eva gave birth to another daughter, and they named her Anita.

Telling her story

Ever since the war ended, Eva kept her traumatic memories to herself and didn’t speak about what happened during the Holocaust. But in 1995, when the world marked the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Eva received an invitation to attend a commemorative event in Auschwitz.

At first, Eva wasn’t interested. But her daughters Judith and Anita encouraged her to go even though they still knew nothing about her story or the terrible things she experienced. In the end, they convinced her, and she went.

Sitting: Judith Wurman, Eva Szepesi, Anita Schwarz. Top: Sharon Wurman, Celina Schwarz

Sitting: Judith Wurman, Eva Szepesi, Anita Schwarz. Top: Sharon Wurman, Celina Schwarz

At Auschwitz, Eva met many people, some of whom were survivors themselves and some of whom were young people who had come to honor the memories of those who perished. One person came up to her and asked if she could tell her story, and that’s when it happened: for the first time, Eva spoke about the memories that had been haunting her since her childhood. From that moment, she became determined to tell her story to as many people as possible.

She wrote one book herself, Ein Mädchen allein auf der Flucht (A Young Girl Alone in Flight), and then was interviewed for another book, My Afternoon with Eva, written by the well-known German TV presenter Bärbel Schäfer. In addition, Eva’s name became connected with the story of the Holocaust at Auschwitz. She was interviewed in a number of German news outlets; there is a page dedicated to her story on the website of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation; she has been hosted in schools and institutions; and she even won a number of awards in Germany for her work.

Eva Szepesi

Eva Szepesi

 In 2016, Eva participated in the March of the Living in Auschwitz together with her family. There, she opened a list of the names of those who died at the camp, and found her parents’ names there. Even though it had been many, many years since she returned to Hungary, the finality of those names on that list hit her hard. It felt as though she had only just internalized that they were never coming back.

A surprise DNA match and two familiar faces

When Eva and her daughter Anita heard about at-home DNA tests, their curiosity was piqued. They decided to order DNA kits and see if they could find any unknown family members.

And that’s when it happened: Eva received a DNA match with someone she didn’t know, a woman named Naama Levy Eylam who lives in Israel.

Naama had taken a DNA test a few months before because she was also keenly interested in family history.

Naama Levy Eylam

Naama Levy Eylam

When Naama saw the DNA match, she rubbed her eyes in disbelief. Eva was a name she didn’t recognize. When she saw that Eva was originally from Budapest, she guessed that Eva must be from her late grandmother’s family, since they were from Hungary. But as soon as she began to research online, she discovered a photo that Eva had published — the photo of her as a child with two men in the background. These men looked familiar to Naama. She was sure she had seen them before.

Naama called her father, told him about the DNA match, showed him the photo, and shared that she felt she had seen these men in a different photo.

“I found the photo of Zoltan and Oszkar when I began writing my historical novel, Everything She Left Behind, which tells the love story of my grandparents, Imre and Klara Levi,” says Naama. “To tell the story of Imre, who was from the Lowy family in Slovakia, I had to dig into historical documents and photos he left behind. Imre, who was left alone after the Holocaust, held on to a few photos of the family members he had lost, and among them was the photo of his beloved cousins who died in the Holocaust. I didn’t know much about the two young men in the photo, but their faces remained etched in my memory for years afterwards. I kept this photo among the documents I used when writing the book. In the meantime, the book had already been published, but I didn’t forget Zoltan and Oszkar Lowy. After the DNA match with Eva, I searched for her name online and found her photograph, with these two good-looking men standing behind her — none other than Imre’s beloved cousins. When I searched for that photo again in my home, I found it among all the documents I’d used when I was writing, waiting to be rediscovered.”

The photo Naama had of Oszkar (right) and Zoltan Lowy

The photo Naama had of Oszkar (right) and Zoltan Lowy

Naama showed the photo to her father Israel, who remembered more details: “My father is the family historian, and when I showed him the photo I’d found, he know exactly who they were: Oszkar and Zoltan Lowy, cousins of my grandfather, Imre Lowy, who lived in Slovakia. My father even remembered that his father was very close to them, because when he was 13, he and his family ran into financial trouble, and he moved in with these cousins for a full year. I imagine that when my grandfather understood that they had perished, he kept their photo to remember them by, and that’s how it remained in my family’s possession.”

Imre Lowy, Naama’s grandfather

Imre Lowy, Naama’s grandfather

Naama and her father, Israel Levi

Naama and her father, Israel Levi

The families connect

Now that she understood the significance of the match, Naama returned to her DNA results on MyHeritage and began trying to contact Eva. “I saw that she was an older woman, aged 89, so I thought it would make more sense to contact her younger family members. I found the name of her daughter Anita on MyHeritage, and I looked her up on Facebook and wrote to her: ‘Hello, I am Naama from Israel, granddaughter of Imre Lowy.’ Of course, I didn’t forget to attached the photo and I concluded with a question: ‘Maybe you recognize the people in this photo?’”

When Anita received Naama’s message, she couldn’t believe her eyes. She immediately sent the photo to her daughter Celina and her sister Judith. Celina was certain: these are your great-uncles. They are younger in this photograph, but there’s no doubt that they are the same people.

Anita wrote back to Naama right away that these were close family members who had died in the Holocaust. Oszkar and Zoltan were Eva’s uncles on her mother’s side of the family.

That very evening, the families spoke via video chat: on one end, Eva and her daughters in Germany, and on the other end, Naama and her father in Israel.

This was the first time Eva had found family members that had survived the Holocaust. But in addition to the exciting family discovery, Naama sent Eva another photo of her great-grandmother, Rachela Lowy, who was born in the 1860s and whom Eva had never met.

Rachela Lowy, Eva’s great-grandmother

Rachela Lowy, Eva’s great-grandmother

“Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away,” says Naama. “He did not live to see all this, but we are doing it all for him and in his name.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the family has yet to meet face to face, but they are closely in touch via Whatsapp, and hope that soon, when travel restrictions are lifted, they will be able to reunite at last.

The post 77 Years After the Holocaust, DNA Test Connects Survivor with Descendants of Surviving Relatives appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Source: My Heritage

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