Childhood best friends reunited 82 years after Nazi terror split them apart

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Childhood best friends Ana María Wahrenberg and Betty Grebenschikoff said goodbye to each other in a German schoolyard in May 1939.

Now the school pals, who were separated aged just nine when their Jewish families were forced to flee the Nazis, have hugged each other in person once again after spending more than eight decades fearing the other had died in the Holocaust.

But in a St Petersburg, Florida, hotel room on 5 November, the 91-year-olds were finally physically reunited thanks to the USC Shoah Foundation – a non-profit organization founded by Steven Spielberg that records and preserves audiovisual recollections of Holocaust survivors.

Grebenschikoff was one of 20,000 European Jews to settle in Shanghai, while Wahrenberg and her family had fled to Santiago, Chile. Both had contacted databases to search for the other, but it was only when an indexer at the foundation noticed similarities in their accounts were they finally reconnected.

“It felt like coming home,” Grebenschikoff told the Washington Post after their reunion, adding that her friend “was always on my mind. We just had this feeling, like we really belonged together.”

“It was very emotional,” said Wahrenberg. “It was like we were never separated. It was very special that two people, after 82 years, still love one another.”

The pair, both widows, recounted that they then spent four days together shopping, talking, eating and drinking champagne.

“We’re not the girls we used to be when we were nine, that’s for sure, but we kept giggling like we were little kids,” Grebenschikoff told the Post. “It was such a joy for both of us.”

After Wahrenberg spoke at a virtual Kristallnacht event, a Shoah Foundation indexer, Ita Gordon, recalled the testimony Grebenschikoff had given to the foundation 24 years previously and made the connection between the two women’s stories.

“These two remarkable women being reconnected after losing each other is such a testament of hope,” senior director Kori Street said earlier this year.

After meeting in Florida this month, Grebenschikoff said their reunion had proved that “good things can happen out of a bad experience. It was the silver lining of all silver linings. It was the fulfillment of a dream.”

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