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A Jewish Woman Adopted as a Baby After World War II Lost Hope of Finding Her Father. This Year She Gained a Whole New Family

10 Jun 2024 11:21 AM | Anonymous

There is a very interesting human interest story on the CNN web site at:

When Elana Milman published an autobiography last year about her lifelong quest to find her birth parents, she had accepted she would never know the identity of her father.

But thanks to a DNA test and some serious “genealogical detective work,” Milman, a 77-year-old retired teacher born in a displaced persons camp in Bergen-Belsen, has just returned from Poland, where she had an emotional meeting with the brother she didn’t know she had until earlier this year.

Growing up on a kibbutz in northern Israel, Milman had no idea her mother and father were not her birth parents until she was six, when she recalls a friend shared the “very big secret” he had heard.

“I remember this feeling like yesterday, like a kind of stab in my tummy,” Milman, a retired teacher, told CNN on a video call.

When confronted, her parents admitted that they had not brought her into the world but said they loved her and were raising her to have a “wonderful life.”

Over the years, whenever she tried to discuss it, she was told: “When you grow up, you’ll know.”

It was only in her 30s that Milman finally discovered her birth certificate, which – after some meticulous research – led her to her birth mother in Canada.

The birth certificate showed she was born Helena Lewinska to a Polish-Jewish woman called Franziska Lewinska in 1947 at the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp, close to the site of the former Nazi concentration camp of the same name.

However, in 1948 she arrived in what was then Palestine – just months before Israel’s independence – as part of a group of unaccompanied children from war-torn Europe. She was adopted by a childless couple, Eliezer and Hulda Rosenfeld, from Kibbutz Merhavia, near Haifa.

Against the odds, Milman eventually tracked down her biological mother, who had married and changed her name, in Canada and even spent a year there with her family. The pair grew close over several years and although her mother, known as Franka, shared much about her wartime past before she died in the 1980s – how she survived the Holocaust by escaping from the Warsaw Ghetto and living on the other side of the city under a false identity, and how her parents and siblings perished at the Nazis’ Treblinka extermination camp – she refused to divulge the identity of Milman’s father.

He was listed as Eugeniusz Lewinski on Milman’s birth certificate, but her research hit a brick wall as she found no evidence of anyone by that name.

“Every time I quizzed my mother – like, what happened to her during the war and who was my father – she gave me different stories,” she told CNN. “When I bugged her too much, she said ‘the only thing I can tell you is that he was a very good singer and dancer – and very handsome.’”

Last year, Milman – who has four children and 10 grandchildren – published an autobiography aptly entitled “When you grow up, you’ll know.” In an interview with an Israeli magazine at that time, she said she had come to terms with never knowing who her father was.

Little did she know that Gilad Japhet, founder and chief executive of genealogy platform MyHeritage, would read the article and pass it to his research team, asking “can we help?”

With Milman’s consent, they embarked on “genealogical detective work,” according to Roi Mandel, MyHeritage’s director of research.

There were few clues to go on and it seemed as if Lewinska had, for whatever reason, given the “father” on the birth certificate the male version of her surname to create the impression they had been married.

But then Milman took a DNA test, which proved crucial. It showed she was 50% Ashkenazi Jewish and 50% Eastern European and revealed a match with a Polish woman living in France. They shared 2.3% of their DNA – meaning they had a set of great-grandparents in common.

The Polish woman could not explain the connection but she had a small family tree, which MyHeritage built upon using its extensive database of historical documents and with the help of a professional researcher who trawled the archives in Poland.

“Luckily for us, the DNA test and the small match found for Elana with a Polish user was the little clue we needed,” Mandel told CNN in an email.

“The research took six months, as part of which we mapped the family, mapping eight pairs of great-grandparents, and delved into each branch and its male descendants. We marked the potential candidates, who were in the right place, at the right time and of the right age.”

That time, the researchers estimated, was somewhere between April 24 and 28 in 1946, leaving them with six prime suspects.

Fortunately, they struck lucky first time, after deciding to focus on a man who shared a first name with the birth certificate entry: Eugeniusz Gorzkoś.

Mandel’s team subsequently found and reached out to Gorzkoś’s son, Juliusz, a 72-year-old retired veterinarian in northern Poland.

Shocked but intrigued, he agreed to a DNA test, which proved that he and Milman were half-siblings.

Elana, right, and her biological mother Franziska (Franka), center, with her husband Yoseph Bursztajn and her other children, Mike and Diane, in 1981.

Elana, right, and her biological mother Franziska (Franka), center, with her husband Yoseph Bursztajn and her other children, Mike and Diane, in 1981. 

The pair first “met” at a virtual reunion facilitated by MyHeritage in March. Speaking through an interpreter, Milman told her brother that learning her identity had been the “project of my life.”

There is more to the story in an article by Lianne Kolirin at:

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

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