On May 8, the American Red Cross will join with the other 185 national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from around the globe to celebrate World Red Cross Red Crescent Day. The following story is part of a series, leading up to the observance and demonstrating the connection between your local American Red Cross chapter and the humanitarian work being done overseas by the American Red Cross, other national societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Holocault and War Victims Tracing Center
In 80 years of life, one would expect to have many fond memories to reflect upon. But nothing was as blessedly surprising to Melania Babenko as the day she found her beloved and missing sister with help from the Red Cross.
Babenko had not seen her sister Eugenia Kawczak, since 1943 when she was taken by the Nazis from their home in rural Ukraine and transported to a forced-work farm in Würzburg, Germany.
In the chaos of the war, and the subsequent division of Europe into Western and Soviet blocs, the sisters, like so many others, were never able to re-establish contact after the violence ended. During the Soviet domination of Ukraine, the government heavily restricted communications between Communist and Western countries. It was only after the Ukraine gained independence and economic stability that long-distance communication once again became possible.
In September 2008, after decades of silence, Babenko visited the Ukrainian Red Cross to inquire about locating her sister, though she did not know where she might be now living – or if she even survived the war. The Ukrainian Red Cross searched among post-war records and eventually passed Babenko’s request to the American Red Cross with information that her sister may have come to United States approximately ten years after they were torn apart.
Through the diligence of volunteers working from the American Red Cross Granite Chapter, Kawczak’s son, Stanley, was found living in New Hampshire. When contacted, he was happy to relay that his mother is in good health, living with his sister, Nadija, in New Jersey.
Soon after receiving this good news, the American Red Cross Salem County Chapter in Carney’s Point, New Jersey contacted Eugenia Kawczak to share that her sister was searching for her.
“I couldn’t believe that after all these years, they found my sister,” Kawczak exclaimed.
After the liberation of the work farm, Eugenia Kawczak was placed in a camp for displaced persons in West Germany, operated by the U.S. military, and eventually immigrated to America with two of her three children.
Her eldest daughter, Vera Elser, said of the initial phone call, “My mother would not believe it until she went to the Salem County Red Cross and saw the name of the village where they were born (on the inquiry form Babenko completed by hand in Poland).”
After so many years of grieving their separation and living with unanswered questions, Eugenia Kawczak did not waste time in contacting her sister. “The day we went to the Red Cross we were given a telephone number, and as soon as we got home we called her right away,” Elser said. “She was shocked and happy. She’s now talked to her sister several times.”
Next month, the sisters will see each other for the first time in more than 65 years. Babenko and Eugenia Kawczak have planned a long-awaited reunion in Ukraine. Though her health has kept her from traveling on an airplane in recent years, Eugenia Kawczak will be making the 10-hour flight to see Babenko.
“This was too important for her to miss,” Elser confirmed. “And her bags are already packed.”
Their story represents one of approximately 1,500 reunions coordinated by the American Red Cross in the last 20 years. If you are a Holocaust survivor or an immediate family member, the American Red Cross may be able to help. We have the resources to find answers to questions you've asked for more than half a century. To initiate your search, please contact your local American Red Cross chapter.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.