Families of Holocaust Survivors Reunited Through Yad Vashem Database

After losing her entire family at the age of 12, Russian Jew Liora Tamir was certain there was no one left; at 65 her daughter found that she had a long-lost cousin in Israel.

Ever since she became an orphaned 12-year-old in Russia, Liora Tamir thought she was alone in the world - having lost every single 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.

Liora Tamir meets her lost cousin at Yad Vashem April 21, 2011

She discovered that her murdered grandparents were commemorated there by an uncle she never knew, who had moved to Israel.

On Thursday, 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 73-year-old Aryeh Shikler. 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 Tamn 2004. More than a million more names have been added since. The information can be accessed online in English, Hebrew and Russian.

Efforts continue, primarily in eastern Europe, where name collection is particularly difficult because Jews there were often rounded up, shot and dumped in mass graves without any documentation. The names of Jews killed at German death camps, on the other hand, often remain because of meticulous Nazi records.

Hugging his cousin for the first time, the gray-haired Shikler said the joy of the moment was mixed with sadness over those who couldn't witness it. He, too, knew little about his family history.

Of their grandparents' five children, two perished in the Holocaust, Shikler's father came to Israel, Tamir's mother died in Russia and another sibling emigrated to the United States, never to be heard of again.

The two cousins live an hour away from each other - Tamir in Tel Aviv, Shikler in Haifa. They say they have much to share and much to learn.

We are connected by blood, Shikler said, in a scratchy voice. All you need to do is listen and it all starts flowing out.

Tamir's daughter said the situation would take some getting used to.

All of a sudden we have a family tree. Until now it was:just one branch, she said. I don't know what you do with family because it is really strange and new for us.