Human Interest

Holocaust survivor spent her life looking for daughter born in concentration camp

Holocaust

There is no shortage of heartbreaking stories from the Holocaust. Families were destroyed, with others ripped apart. But for one family, what started out as a tragedy decades ago has become a heartwarming reunion.

The Washington Post told the story of Dora Rapaport, who survived several concentration camps during the Holocaust. But it left a trauma from which she would never recover: the loss of her baby girl, Eva. Rapaport was placed in Bergen-Belsen, where she reportedly gave birth to a daughter. At some point, she and her daughter were released, only to be re-captured and placed in Auschwitz, where Eva was taken away from her. Rapaport then saw the rest of her family killed in a gas chamber, but hoped desperately that her daughter somehow had survived.

“She spent her whole life looking for this child,” Dena Morris, one of Rapaport’s daughters, told the Washington Post. “It affected her mentally really badly.”

Rapaport had a single black-and-white photograph of her with Eva, which she kept for the rest of her life. After being liberated from Auschwitz in 1945, she moved to Austria and met her husband, another Holocaust survivor, who she married. She gave birth to Morris and another daughter, Jean Gearhart — but she never forgot Eva, and never stopped looking for her. Rapaport traveled to Germany multiple times, searching orphanages for her daughter, but never found her. In the meantime, she slept with her cherished photo.

 

In 1996, Rapaport died. But her two daughters promised her before she passed away that they would continue the search for their sister. And for years, they did, with the same results as their mother: Eva was nowhere to be found. “For our entire lives, we were curious. We wanted to know where Eva was, who Eva was,” Gearhart said. “We didn’t know where to even begin.”

Last year, Morris and Gearhart did a DNA test, and in April, finally received results. They had a match with 53-year-old Clare Reay in Great Britain, whom they were told was likely their niece. Reay received a similar e-mail.

Reay’s mother, Evelyn, had always said she didn’t have any family, but her daughter was skeptical. Evelyn knew very little about her own background — all she had was one old document saying that her birth name was Chava (Hebrew for Eva), and that she was born in 1945 in Bergen-Belsen. At the age of seven, she was adopted in Israel by a Jewish family living in Britain, and thought her birth family had perished in the Holocaust.

Still, Reay wasn’t sure she believed that her mother Evelyn’s long-lost family had finally been found, until they exchanged photographs, and the similarities between Rapaport and Evelyn were too strong to ignore. As Morris and Gearhart spoke more with Reay, they learned that the likeness wasn’t just physical; Rapaport and Evelyn had similar personality traits as well.

“I never thought we would have the ability to find my mother’s family,” Gearhart said, while Morris added, “I can’t even tell you what it means to us, just the fact that we actually got to find her.”

At first, they connected only through text messages and phone calls until they met virtually, arranged by the TODAY show — but sadly, Evelyn had already passed away, in 2014. But Morris and Gearhart still had Reay, who they finally met in person thanks to a surprise trip to Ohio from England in November. It was, Reay said, “one of the highlights of my life.”

Of course, the reunion is bittersweet, as mother and daughter never got to reunite themselves, and Evelyn never got to learn that her family was still there, waiting for her. “It’s incredibly bittersweet,” Reay tearfully said of her mother. “She should be here for this.”

But their family ties have been mended, and the family still has hope. “The only thing I wish for is that they’re together in heaven,” Morris said. “And that they know we finally found each other.”

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