Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
One day in Ottawa, Canada, a former Polish schoolboy got it into his head to investigate what his origins were. In 2001, Cezary Fudali was given a closely guarded secret from one of his family members. It was the kind of secret that sticks in the back of your mind until you figure out a way to resolve it.
He had been told in utmost secrecy by a relative of his family that his mother had been adopted. The relative felt it was time to tell Cezary, especially as he was leaving the country and they were old and did not expect to see him again.
This was shocking news to Cezary and, all the more so, due to the circumstances of the adoption which occurred during World War II. Sometime in July, 1942, according to Cezary’s relative, his mother, who was a baby of about one month old, and her mother had been at the train station in Rozwadow.
The town was located in southeastern Poland and originally the name meant “uncoupling”. It referred to the town’s position as a major rail junction point where the Polish and Russian railroads met. It was known to have a significant Jewish population as did several surrounding shtetls.
On July 21, 1942, the final deportation of the Jewish population was made from the train station. The destination of the Jews was to Debica and then to further killing camps from there. It is a possibility that this was the exact day that Cezary’s grandmother and mother were at the train station.
If it was that horrible day, then Cezary’s grandmother probably knew that this was her last chance to save her child before they were both taken away and killed. She looked around and saw a middle-aged couple standing on the railway platform nearby and went up to them.
She asked if they had some change for milk for her baby who was crying from hunger. After they agreed, she asked them also if they were Polish. After they confirmed this, the grandmother must have sighed in relief as any Rozwadower Jew could not have helped her in her quest to save the baby as they would have been in the process of being deported too and deprived of food and shelter.
The husband went off to get the milk and Cezary’s grandmother asked the wife if they would adopt her child as it was impossible for her to keep her. After an initial hesitation, the couple, who had no children of their own, agreed to the adoption. When quizzed by the couple, the mother refused to tell them anything about herself or the baby in order to preserve the security of the child. Allegedly, she told the couple that it was better for them and the baby that way.
The couple then took the baby back to their farm in a small village called Koziarnia which was nearby to Rudnik nad Sanem, about 20 miles east of Rozwadow, where they raised her as their own. They named the baby Bronislawa (Isa) Schiffer and never told the child that she had been adopted.
They further distanced themselves from the scene of the adoption as they moved away from the village right after World War II was over. What happened to the child’s biological mother was never known either, but she probably met her end in one of the German concentration camps shortly after her departure from the train station.
Given this history, and the timing of it, Cezary felt that his mother might indeed be Jewish and a hidden child as well. He read all he could as he wanted to know more about his mother and her situation. This brought him to DNA testing and all that it might do to help identify family connections.
And so, in 2003, he intrepidly made contact with FamilyTreeDNA. His inquiry focused on whether he could test for the identity of his mother’s father to determine if he were Jewish. Little did he realize that it was his mother’s maternal ancestry that would enable him to be considered halachically Jewish and establish his identity.
The inquiry was an unusual one which grabbed the attention of Bennett Greenspan, the President of FamilyTreeDNA. After discussing the matter with Cezary, he advised him to take the initial mtDNA test (HVR1) which would provide a close first glance at his maternal ancestry. The results proved that he matched with Ashkenazi Jews. When additional people were tested for the HVR1 and were added to the database, a few non-Jews appeared as matches to Cezary.
Later, he did the mtDNAPlus test (HVR2) and the response was again Jews with some non-Jews of English/Irish origins. As the tests got more complex, he came closer to knowing his true maternal origins. He was still keen on knowing, for sure, what his maternal origins were and he took a final test which was available.
This last test was an mtDNA Full Mitrochondrial Sequence test. At that level, he found that he only matched with and clustered with Jews. In particular, he had an identical match with Gerson Kaplan, whose family was originally from Slovakia, now part of Czechoslovakia, which was an area some miles south of Rozwadow, Poland.
Due the fact that Cezary did not know where his grandmother and mother were actually from and their real names, it made it impossible to be certain how Gerson was related to him and how closely. This might remain a mystery until future explorations into DNA technology would bring about more precise answers.
The major thing which Cezary learned was that he was definitely Jewish by his maternal ancestry – the DNA could not lie. This was a real accomplishment for the son of a hidden child, albeit a bittersweet one. He realized as well that things he had heard about hidden children were true, that they “stuck out like a sore thumb”. This too he had heard about his own mother from her relative and now he knew why.
As the mtDNA database grows and others hear his story, Cezary hopes to find more identical matches and perhaps some elusive someone who might know of his family. Someone who might even know who his grandfather might have been and certainly someone who might recognize his mother’s photo and see a resemblance with their family.
This article is part of a special monthly series on DNA success stories. These stories offer family researchers encouragement and greater understanding of DNA testing, which has become a popular part of the genealogical research world since its inception. If you have had success with DNA testing, we would love to publish your story. Please email us by clicking here. To view past DNA Success Stories, please click here.