Holocaust survivor discovers family of lost brother in Warwick

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    WARWICK-He could hardly believe his own eyes. Last November, Oren Einav, a resident of Israel, was browsing through the memories link of the new Yad Vashem Web site. What he was about to discover was that his father's brother Jacob, thought to have died during World War II or shortly afterwards, may have been living in Israel, only 30 or 40 kilometers away. He soon learned, however, that Jacob's last home was in Warwick, NY. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, has been entrusted with documenting the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It maintains the world's largest collection of the names and stories of those who perished during the Shoah, the Hebrew word for catastrophe. Oren's father, who was born Leowi Kiczales but who is now known as Josef Zabludowski, had submitted his brother's history to the Web site along with his own opinion that Jacob had died in or shortly after the Shoah. While searching for additional family information, Oren stumbled on the name of Jacob Kiczalis, who, in 1957, had submitted a similar story about his brother. He remembered that Kiczales was the family name. Oren continued to search. The spelling of the last names was slightly different but other common information, including the names of parents and the family's hometown of Lwow (pronounced luh-VOO), Poland, were the same. There could be little doubt that this Jacob could be his father's brother. And that since he had submitted this story in 1957, he obviously survived and might even be still living in Israel. The search continues Oren was almost afraid to give his father the good news. "Because of his age, I didn't know how he would react to this," he said. However, when told about the discovery, Josef was happy and recalled that his older brother, who was born in Paris and named Jean or Jenek, had also been called Jacob. Oren and his wife Ann learned that after the war, Jacob, who had been serving in the Russian army, returned to Poland where he met and married a Catholic girl named Maria. His brother Josef, while searching for him in the area where they had grown up, may have actually been nearby at the very same time. Oren and Ann also learned that someone in the same Polish district had told Jacob that they had seen his youngest brother after the war. In the 1950s, Jacob and Maria managed to emigrate with their children from Poland to France for a short time and then to Israel. In 1961 they came to the United States. With the help of government agencies, various Jewish organizations and Yad Vashem; Oren and his wife, were able to follow a trail that took them from Israel to France and finally to the United States. Using an International phone directory on the Internet, they discovered a possible family address and telephone number in Warwick, NY. "We knew it was late at night in America," said Oren, "but we decided to call." At first, when Maria Kiczalis, 83, answered the call from Ann Einav in Israel, she thought it was some sort of telemarketing. But then she gave the correct answers to a few important questions including the name of her and her husband's hometown and if and when they had ever lived in Israel. "Oren! Come downstairs," shouted Ann. "I've found him." Oren and Ann knew they had come to the end of a long trail. It was an emotional moment. Sadly, they also learned that Jacob had passed away in 1992, never knowing that his brother Josef was still alive. But nevertheless, they were happy to know that Jacob and Maria had lived a good life and raised three children: Elizabeth "Liz" Kiczalis and her sister Emelia Melillo, both living in Warwick, and a brother Mark, who lives in New Jersey. "When I spoke to Emelia," said Oren, "I asked her to sit down. And then I told her I was calling from Israel and that I was her cousin. Everyone was crying. We were on the phone for over an hour." On Thursday, June 9, Josef, his wife Elicia, their son Oren and his wife, Ann, traveled from Israel to Warwick to visit a family they never knew existed until seven months ago. They also had an opportunity to visit and pray as both Jews and Catholics at Jacob's grave in Warwick Cemetery. To understand the difficulty of what Oren and his wife had accomplished; one would almost have to relive the days of the Nazi occupation, the Holocaust and the disruption and chaos that immediately followed the end of World War II. "It was total confusion," said Josef, who speaks seven languages including English. "Anyone who has lived a normal life, cannot understand." He explained that most survivors had been hiding or escaping. Besides changing their identities, names were misspelled and close relatives had been killed. Others, often homeless and penniless, were dispersed throughout the world. Immigration officials again misspelled or changed their names. Josef's own survival in Poland was due in part to the generosity and bravery of a Polish Catholic woman. Her grandson, who was also Josef's friend, Tadeusz Anklewicz, had recently died from leukemia. "Tadeusz was a Christian, almost my same age, and she gave me his papers," said Josef. "I became him for four years." Using these false identity papers, Josef was able to live openly, even attending Sunday Mass. Later, with Poland under Soviet control, he joined the army and traveled to Russia in search of his brother. Again, they may have been only a few kilometers apart. "I knew he might still be alive," said Josef, "because a neighbor had received a letter from him after the war. It was postmarked in Russia but she didn't save it so I never knew the area where it was mailed." Although he thought his oldest brother had survived the Shoah, he also assumed that, like many others, he was probably killed in Russia. "The Russians were as bad as the Germans," he said. Subsequently, Josef joined a Zionist organization in Poland. The local leadership asked him to exchange his papers with a stranger, a Russian Jew, who was fleeing from the Soviet Union. Thus he became Josef Zabludowski, a man he never met but a name he uses to this day. At the beginning of World War II, Jacob Kiczalis, then known as Jean or Jenek Kiczales, was 12 years older than Josef and an officer serving in the Polish army. As the Germans advanced, he managed to avoid capture and he escaped into Russia. Once across the border, however, he was imprisoned as a spy but later released to fight with the Russian army. After the war, he returned to Poland where he married Maria, had children and emigrated with his family to France, then Israel and finally to the United States. "He was a wonderful and hard working man," said Maria. "We had only seven dollars when we arrived in America and he sold his watch so that the family could survive until he found a job." Jacob found that job and became successful. But throughout his life he never forgave himself and always regretted that day, June 29, 1941, the last time he would ever see his family including his father, Yehuda, his mother, Fania, his younger brother Emil, 22, and his youngest brother Leowi, 14, who we now know as Josef. Planning his escape from Poland to Russia, Jacob, then 26, commandeered a truck and drove to his home to rescue everyone from the advancing German army. Fania, however, who had been born in Vienna, Austria, argued that her former German neighbors, "a sensible and educated people," as she said, would be reasonable occupiers. Besides that, this was her home and everyone and everything she ever had was in Lwow. They would all stay and hope for the best. Jacob begged that he at least be allowed to take his youngest brother with him. The family refused. Fania, Yehuda, Emil and about 200 members of the Kiczales family perished in the concentration camps. Years later, now living in the United States, Jacob accompanied his son-in-law, Philip Melillo, who wanted to visit some of his family graves at a New Jersey cemetery. "At least you know where your family is," Jacob sighed. And in 1992, knowing he was dying, Jacob told Melillo: "Now, I am going to join my family." Last week, his youngest brother Josef was visiting his oldest brother Jacob's family in Warwick. "All my life I longed to see someone - anyone - from my family," said Josef. "I thought no one had survived. Now I have a family."