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Finding Renate

2 October 2011

At the start of 1999, my closest missing relative was Renate BACH, my mother's first cousin.  The last direct contact between my mother and Renate had been 65 years earlier, in early 1934.

Renate was born in Berlin in December 1933.   In early 1934, Renate's parents arranged to get out of Nazi Germany and emigrate to South Africa.  Due to health or age concerns, or both, Helmut and Lotte could not take their little baby with them on the journey to South Africa.

At least in part because my mother's father was a pediatrician and her mother had training as a nurse, the baby Renate came to live with my mother's family in Breslau for about 6 months.  My mother was about 11 when she temporarily had a little baby to help looking after.  At the end of that period, Renate was entrusted to someone traveling to South Africa and she made the passage to re-join her parents.

The only other things I knew were (i) that Renate's parents got divorced, (ii) that Helmut had died young from tuberculosis, and (iii) that Renate might have been living in Jerusalem.  I had no luck trying to finding Renate under her maiden name BACH.  A 1997 posting to the Jewish Genealogy online discussion group with that limited information did not lead to any result.

In 1998, from a cousin in Israel, I received a letter written by my great grandmother Rosa BACH, geb. PERL (1870-1955) in 1947.  It included mention of her (ex) daughter-in-law Lotte with the information that she lived in Johannesburg and had a women's clothes shop "Charlotte".   A 1998 posting to the Jewish Genealogy discussion group with that slightly expanded information again did not lead to any direct result, but (if I recall correctly), it caused me to get in contact with a professional genealogist / researcher in South Africa.

In the end, it cost me all of about $50, but I know I gave serious consideration to foregoing this approach because I had never paid anyone to do research for me.   It was certainly money well spent.  I got copies of three sets of legal papers with information on the 1935 divorce of Helmut and Lotte, the re-marriage of Lotte, and Lotte's second divorce.  From this material, most importantly, I learned that Renate had been adopted by her step-father and got the surname KANIUK.  That gave me a whole new avenue to search.

I could not find Renate KANIUK -- which would not have been her name if she had married.   So, the next day, I posted a third note to the Jewish Genealogy discussion group.  At the same time, I also looked for all of the KANIUK addresses I could find, and sent a postal letter to about 18 families.  The first reply was from a family that was not the one I was looking for.   The second reply, three weeks after getting the documents from South Africa, was a telephone call from Jerusalem -- from Renate!   One of my letters had reached her half-brother in England and he had passed it on to her.  The next day, my mother called her first cousin and re-established contact after 65 years.   We learned about her life and her family, including her 3 children -- new second cousins.

The following year, Renate came to the US and met us in Philadelphia and visited my mother in North Carolina.  My mother reciprocated with a trip to Israel.  In 2001, my brother and I also went to Israel and saw Renate.   On both sides, the re-connection was gratefully appreciated.  And the timing was fortuitous; Renate died in October 2003.  But, we are left with great memories and our new cousins.

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