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Holocaust database unites cousins in Israel

Liora Tamir, 65, met her cousin Aryeh Shikler, 73, for the first time yesterday at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Liora Tamir, 65, met her cousin Aryeh Shikler, 73, for the first time yesterday at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. (Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press)
By Aron Heller
Associated Press / April 22, 2011

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JERUSALEM — Ever since she became an orphaned 12-year-old in Russia, Liora Tamir thought she was alone in the world — having lost every member of her family either in the Nazi Holocaust or Soviet prison camps.

That changed because of a recent search of a database of names of Holocaust victims. She discovered that her murdered grandparents were commemorated there by an uncle she never knew, and who had moved to Israel.

Yesterday, she was united with his son — her cousin — at an emotional ceremony at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

“My mother didn’t tell me anything about the family. I thought they were all gone,’’ said Tamir, 65, shortly after embracing Aryeh Shikler, 73. “Now I have a cousin. I still can’t believe it. It’s surreal.’’

Tamir’s daughter, Ilana, made the reunion possible. For years she scoured archives for any information about her maternal grandmother, Yona Shapira.

Initially, she learned that her grandmother traveled from Poland to pre-state Israel in the 1920s and spent six years there before she was arrested and deported by the British because of her communist activities. These activities ultimately landed her in the Gulag town of Vorkuta where Liora was born.

Then, KGB documents she obtained revealed the names of Shapira’s parents. Finally, she searched Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims Names and found a page of testimony under their names submitted in 1956 by a Simcha Shikler — Aryeh’s father. Shoah is the Hebrew term for Holocaust.

“It definitely feels like I cracked a mystery, and we now we have a better picture of our family,’’ said Ilana Tamir, 33. “I feel like I gave my mother a gift, I gave her a family. We had a hole in our hearts, and we didn’t have a family or blood relationships with anyone — and suddenly a family was born.’’

Cynthia Wroclawski, the manager of Yad Vashem’s name recovery project, called the database the repository for the Jewish people that allowed people like Tamir to peel away crucial information about their own family histories.

“I think everyone at some point in their life becomes interested in where they came from to see where they’re going, and the story of Liora Tamir is one such story,’’ she said.

Yad Vashem’s goal is to collect all 6 million names of the Holocaust’s Jewish victims, encouraging survivors to come forth and fill out pages of testimony for those killed, before their names and stories are lost forever.

The project began in 1955 and reached 3 million confirmed names by the time the online database was launched in 2004. More than a million more names have been added since. The information can be accessed online in English, Hebrew, and Russian.

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