In 1939, at just 15 years old, Gerda Cole escaped to England because Jewish people were being persecuted in Vienna, Austria during World War II. At age 18, she gave birth to a daughter who was placed for adoption, and they have finally reunited after 80 years.
Cole was sent alone on a children’s transport to England to escape the beginnings of what would become the Holocaust. A few years later in 1942, when Cole was an 18-year-old refugee, she gave birth to a daughter. Cole was advised by the refugee committee to place her baby for adoption due to her financial state. She was also told not to maintain any contact with the child, and she did as she was instructed.
Cole celebrated her 98th birthday on May 7, 2022, and she had no idea that she was about to receive the best Mother’s Day and birthday gift she could have ever imagined. During her birthday party that day, she was reunited with her daughter, Sonya Grist. She was also able to meet her grandson, Stephen Grist for the first time. As the family hugged, Cole repeated the words “80 years.” Sonya jokingly said, “Don’t emphasize my age.”
Stephen had been helping his mother trace her genealogy, as he explained to the Toronto Sun. “The Austrian government allowed anybody who could trace their ancestry back to people who had left Austria in the early 1930’s — they could apply for Austrian citizenship,” he said, adding, “Eventually, I discover that Gerda, my mother’s birth mother, has a stepson and I contact the stepson on Facebook and I say, ‘I’m missing one last piece of information. I just need Gerda’s death certificate to be able to finish the application for Austrian citizenship so can you help me with that?’ And he said, ‘You’re not going to find her death certificate because she’s still alive and living in a nursing home in Canada.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God! My mother’s mother is still alive and is 97 turning 98 (Saturday)!”
Grist contacted her mother at Kennedy Lodge, and then traveled from England to help her mother celebrate her birthday.
“Thank you all for coming and sharing this wonderful experience with me,” Cole said at the party. “I am so overjoyed to be able to say, ‘my daughter.’ It means so much to be able to live these days.”
Gerda and Sonya spent the day together, celebrating and talking, for the first time in 80 years. Cole had some wise words for her daughter and grandson. “Don’t wait until tomorrow before it is too late,” she said. “If you want to live, live now, not tomorrow or the day after. It’s all the advice I have to give.”
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