A chance event reunites Holocaust victims from Poland After 52 years, 2 men meet again at a Red Cross center in Baltimore.

September 26, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff fTB

It was a lucky find, but the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center will take it.

Two men who hadn't seen each other in 52 years, since their Hebrew school days in pre-World War II Poland, were reunited at the center, located at the Central Maryland Red Cross Chapter office in northwest Baltimore.

A chance event during processing work earlier this year at the center led to yesterday's reunion.

The tracing center receives requests from Americans who want information about loved ones lost during the war, when 6 million European Jews were killed by Nazi Germany.

The requests are then sent to the Red Cross' International Tracing Service in Arolson, Germany, which has more than 46 million documents pertaining to more than 14 million people affected by the Holocaust and the war's aftermath.

Since opening a year ago, the local tracing center has confirmed 17 deaths and reunited 12 Holocaust survivor families in the United States with relatives who had made inquiries, according to director Diane Paul.

However, Paul cautioned that such reunions are "really rare."

Pursuing a paper trail over two continents, for the minutest lead on a person who has been missing or presumed dead for decades, can be "extremely difficult work," she added.

"The trail," she said, "is pretty cold after more than 40 years."

Sometimes the work gets results, as in the confirmation of a death.

"This is the important part of what we do," said Paul. "It allows a family to fully grieve. For years they may have assumed that their relative was dead, but there was always that sense of unreality from not really knowing. Once we confirm the death, the family feels shock and trauma at first, but they can finally have their grieving process and move on with life."

The center's work also has led to the joyful reunions of people who lost track of each other decades ago.

"The 12 reunions we've had may not sound like a lot, but for the 12 families involved, it constitutes a miracle," said Paul.

Another miracle of sorts took place yesterday when Morris Rosen, of Baltimore, and Harry Nordon, of Queens, N.Y., were reunited at the center. It was the Polish natives' first meeting since the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

After the invasion, the two boyhood friends lost touch. Nordon was put to work in Nazi labor camps during the war. He said he believes that his father, two brothers and three sisters died in concentration camps.

Rosen survived five of the camps, although both his parents died in the Holocaust.

Nordon and Rosen were reunited in front of the Red Cross office at 10:40 a.m. yesterday. They embraced for a emotional but dry-eyed minute. Then, with reporters and cameras circling, the pair of smallish men in their late 60s had a chat.

"Remember my mother?" Nordon asked.

"Sure, I do," Rosen said. "And your father and your sister."

The happy accident of their reunion was set in motion when Nordon recently applied to the Baltimore tracing center for information about family members whom he hadn't heard from since the war.

Rosen happened to be doing volunteer processing work at the center one day when another volunteer asked his help on the pronunciation of a Polish town.

It turned out to be Dombrowa, the home town of Rosen and Nordon.

"First I was stunned that someone wanted information on Dombrowa, but I was more stunned when I looked at the application and recognized Harry's name," Rosen said. "We went to Hebrew school together as boys. I knew his sister, too. Tall, on the skinny side, beautiful girl."

The reunion of the two men was arranged in short order.

Yesterday, they sat side by side on a couch inside the Red Cross building and talked to reporters.

Rosen was natty in a blue-striped suit, a blue-striped shirt and a purplish paisely tie. Nordon, who spoke with a Queens accent, dressed more casually, in blue slacks, a white shirt open at the throat and a gray jacket.

"Oh, it feels great to see him after all these years, and especially to see someone that you never thought you'd see again," Rosen said. "But it hurts to think of all the others who were left behind."

Asked how he felt, Nordon said, twice, "Makes me think there must be a God in heaven."

And will the two men stay in touch?

Nordon nodded. Rosen answered, "Stay in touch? Sure! And how!"

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