British daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was born in a concentration camp and taken from her mother surprises her aunts in the US after matching on a DNA website – and learns her grandmother spent her life searching for her lost baby
- EXCLUSIVE: Clare Reay, 52, from Newcastle was given DNA kit from MyHeritage as a birthday present from her son in April 2020 and found she had an aunt
- Her aunt Dena was her mother’s half-sister and the family were separated by war
- Clare’s mother was adopted in UK after being separated while at Auschwitz
- After camps were liberated her mother found refuge in the US and had children
This is the touching moment the daughter of a Holocaust survivor was reunited with the aunts she never knew existed until she matched with them through an online DNA database.
Clare Reay, 52, was born in the UK to her mother, Eva, but knew little about her life, other than that she had spent time in an Israeli orphanage after the Second World War and was adopted by a British couple.
It was only when Clare, from Newcastle, was given a DNA kit from MyHeritage – an Israel-based online genealogy platform – as a birthday present from her son in 2020 that she discovered her mother’s extraordinary family history, one that she herself never knew.
Eva, who died in 2014, was born in a concentration camp to Dora, a Jewish teenager who had been sent to Auschwitz and Lublin-Majdanek concentration camps with her parents. At some point, she became separated from her baby, although it is not known how.
While Eva was eventually adopted and raised in the UK, Dora settled in the US, where she married had two more daughters, Jean, now 74, and Dena, 73, and spent her life searching for the daughter she had lost.
‘My mother knew absolutely nothing of her biological family, we’re still not sure how old she was when she and her mother became separated as she never had a birth certificate and had no idea of her date of birth,’ Clare told FEMAIL.
The daughter of an Auschwitz survivor who was adopted by a British family surprised her aunts she never knew existed after discovering them on a DNA Heritage website. From left: Jean, Clare and Dena
Left: Dora and Eva in the early forties believed to be in Warsaw right: Eva and Clare in the early 60s in London
Pictured is Clare with her mother Eva and father before her mother passed away in 2014
Uncanny: Dena, Jean and Eva said they knew they were related when they compared pictures. Left is Dora, Right is her daughter Eva
‘She had memories of the orphanage in Israel and recalled various events from that period but she had no memories of her biological mother.’
Jean and Dena promised their mother before her death that they would fulfil her dream of finding her baby.
Remarkably, that happened in early 2020 when Dena received a notification from MyHeritage, telling her she had a niece living in the UK.
‘Initially I was in total disbelief,’ Clare admitted. ‘Then I asked Dena to explain the circumstances of how her mother and sister became separated.
‘She told me somehow they’d become separated whilst in a concentration camp and then she sent a photo of her mother and I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was my mother’s mother.
‘I was totally overwhelmed with excitement and joy knowing that we’d found my mother’s family but at the same time overcome with sadness that my mother wasn’t here for this incredible discovery.’
Through meeting her aunts, Clare has discovered her grandmother was born in Warsaw in 1927
Eva is pictured as child with her adoptive mother after being taken to the UK
Dora Mortkowitz was born in Warsaw in 1927. At the outbreak of the Second World War she was sent first to the Ghetto and later to Auschwitz and Lublin-Majdanek concentration camps with her parents.
Some time in the early 1940s, while in a concentration camp and just a teenager herself, Dora gave birth to Eva.
Sadly, the circumstances of Eva’s birth mean she never knew where or when she was born, and lived her life without knowing her birthday.
At some point, mother and daughter became separated. One surviving photo shows Dora cradling her toddler daughter.
On the liberation of the concentration camps, Eva was sent to an Israeli orphanage.
Clare said: ‘Unfortunately we still know very little about anything that happened before my Mother arrived in Israel, she didn’t remember anything about the concentration camp.
‘Nitay Elboym, who is a Researcher at MyHeritage, managed to find my mother’s name managed to find my mother’s name on the passenger list from Marseille to Israel in February 1948 under the name Chava Lesman so we now know how and when she got to Israel but nothing before that.’
Eva (pictured) had no memory of being in a concentration camp and didn’t know the year she was born
ora spent her whole life searching for Eva, and Dena and Jean (pictured) promised their mother they would they would never stop searching for their sister. Amazingly, they have now delivered on that lifelong promise. Eva died in February 2014, but Dena and Jean have now been able to meet their niece, after a year of video calling.
Eva was adopted as a child by a British couple and grew up in London. She had daughters Clare and Vivienne in Britain.
Unknown to her, on the other side of the Atlantic, her mother had built a life for herself too.
The two worlds met in April 2020, when Clare took her MyHeritage DNA test.
‘It was a birthday gift so it wasn’t something I had never considered but having read the instructions I was interested in finding out our origins from my mother’s side,’ she explained.
How is Clare related to Dena and Jean?
Dena and Jean are Clare’s half-aunts.
Clare’s late mother Eva was born in the early 40s while her mother Dora was in a Nazi camp.
After the war she was freed and taken to an orphanage in Israel, while her mother found refuge in the US.
While in the US, Dora married and had Jean and Dena – who are now in their 70s and living in Ohio.
‘I received a breakdown of our ethnicity which was really interesting and thought nothing more about it.’
But Clare inputting her data into the system triggered an alert for Dena, who had also taken a MyHeritage DNA test.
‘Dena got in touch with me first, through the MyHeritage.com website,’ Clare explained. ‘She told me how she’s received an automatic e-mail from My Heritage stating that I was her niece (from the DNA match).
‘She was so ecstatic to make the discovery, she’s a very warm loving person, she made me feel like one of the family as soon as we started communicating
‘Jean was slightly more reserved and sceptical initially (a bit like me) but once we started talking and swapping photos and information she and I both knew there was no denying our family connection.’
At the time, the US had closed its borders to the UK and Europe due to the spread of Covid-19 so Clare couldn’t visit. But the trio built up a relationship over video calls.
Clare said: ‘Since finding each other we have had regular zooms with Jean, Dean, myself and my sister Vivienne, which has been brilliant as it’s given us the opportunity to get to know each other and swap memories and stories of my Mum and their Mum.
‘My aunts have painted a fantastic picture of their lives growing up with Dora, her personality, her traits, there are so many striking similarities between Dora and my mother that we often think we could be talking about the same person.’
In March this year, Clare booked a flight for September. But shortly afterwards the family was dealt a devastating blow.
Clare Reay, 52, from Newcastle was given a DNA kit from MyHeritage as a birthday present from her son in 202 – she later discovered she had two aunts and met them last month
‘Dena collapsed at work and was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer,’ Dena explained. ‘I applied to the US Embassy for a special visa exemption, which they refused, then I enlisted the help of my local MP to appeal their decision which was refused again.
‘I spent months getting in touch with every relevant organisation known to man for any help to no avail.’
After Clare’s September flights were cancelled, she rebooked twice before finally flying out on November 13.
Clare continued: ‘The surprise was even better than I expected, their reaction was fantastic, we were all so happy to see each other. It felt like we’d known each other all our lives. I think poor Jean was in shock for a while!
‘Jean and John (Jean’s husband) and Dena gave us two fantastic weeks, we learned so much about their lives and their upbringing with Dora.
‘We met all the family and their friends, shared a wonderful family Thanksgiving, went sightseeing and spent as much time with them as we possibly could.’
The family now hopes to learn more about Eva’s life before the war.
She added: ‘I know so much more now than I ever imagined finding out.
‘My mothers side of the family tree was always a dead-end, without a name my mother really had no chance of finding any information about her family.’
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