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Holocaust orphans ask: Who am I?

Holocaust graphic

Israeli TV show tries to reunite families separated by WWII

April 16, 1997
Web posted at: 12:28 p.m. EDT (1628 GMT)

In this story:

From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli television program called "Who Am I?" is not a quiz show. Rather, it's a cry from the heart -- an attempt to help orphans of the Jewish Holocaust learn their true identity.

As children more than half a century ago, some were hidden by Christian families while their parents perished in Hitler's death camps.

Now, as adults, they all ask the same question. Who am I?

Israeli and Polish broadcasters have joined in the search for names and families. It's a race to find biological relatives before all those who might remember the orphans die out.

During the program, images of the Holocaust orphans, as they looked then and now, appear on the television screen along with any name they can remember.

Holocaust survivors

'An angel kept an eye on me'

"I hope someone, somewhere will see something and remember something. Maybe me. Maybe my story," says Pnina Gutman, a grandmother who has been known by several names.

She believes that, as a girl in Poland, she was Barbara Wenglinski or Wenglinska -- a name pinned on a note around her neck.

Once smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto, she lived with the Rebhuns, a German foster family who helped save her.

But at age 2, Barbara was found in a railroad box car, abandoned after the Nazis arrested the Rebhuns.

Then, a Red Cross worker gave her to a Christian family in Poland, where she was raised.

"An angel kept an eye on me," she says now, looking back at how a young child survived a war.

'Maybe they can recognize me'

The parents of young Barbara -- fearing they might not see their daughter again -- had asked the Rebhuns to write to family relatives in the United States.

"Who are they? I don't know," says Gutman, wondering about the American relatives who may still be alive.

Gutman

"Rich or poor, maybe they will see my face and pictures from childhood and maybe they can recognize me."

But Gutman hasn't relied solely on luck or a television show. She has conducted research worthy of a scholar, trying to learn who her parents were.

She does not believe they are still alive but doesn't rule it out. "They may be 80 years old," she told CNN.

Asked if she knows when her birthday is, Gutman answers, "Every day is a holiday because I don't know the exact date."

Success story

"Who Am I?" has had success. In one example, the television program reunited a Holocaust orphan with her natural mother, now 80, who lives in a nursing home.

Television show

During Gutman's appearance on the show, she received a promising phone call from a woman wondering if she might be a cousin.

"I see a Wenglinska family resemblance in your eyes," the caller said.

If true, it would be Gutman's first contact with her biological past.

If not, Pnina Gutman or Barbara Wenglinska or whoever she is will go on asking, "Who am I?"

 
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