Skip to main content

Auschwitz survivor's social media search for long-lost twin

By Atika Shubert, CNN
April 9, 2013 -- Updated 1001 GMT (1801 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Menachem Bodner, born Eli Gottesman, survived Auschwitz as a child and was later adopted
  • Now aged 73, he is trying to trace his twin, Jeno, who he last saw at the concentration camp
  • He hopes social media, including Facebook, will help him find his long-lost brother
  • The pair, originally from Ukraine, have "matching" camp ID tattoos: A 7733 and A 7734

Tel Aviv, Israel (CNN) -- Menachem Bodner is a soft-spoken 73-year-old, who thinks carefully before he describes his first memory as a three-year old child.

"I remember my mother. What she was wearing. A green skirt with white flowers and a white blouse," he says in Hebrew. "On the left, there was a bed and my brother was sleeping. I remember I had a brother."

That memory is crucial. Until a few months ago, Bodner had no evidence his brother even existed.

Bodner is a survivor of Auschwitz. He was four-and-a-half when the camp was liberated in January 1945. In the chaos and confusion, he doesn't remember how he came to be separated from his brother, but he sought a way out.

Auschwitz survivor Menachem Bodner, now 73, is searching for his long-lost twin brother Jeno, known as Jolli. The pair became separated when the camp was liberated in January 1945.
Auschwitz survivor Menachem Bodner, now 73, is searching for his long-lost twin brother Jeno, known as Jolli. The pair became separated when the camp was liberated in January 1945.
Auschwitz survivor's search for lost twin
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
>
>>
Auschwitz survivor\'s search for long-lost twin Auschwitz survivor's search for long-lost twin

"I was in the camp. A man came in who was looking for his wife and daughter," he recalls. "I stood before him and asked if he would be my father. He picked me up in his hands and took me out of the camp."

His adopted father named him Bodner and took him to Israel where he now lives.

Over the years, his father searched for his adopted son's birth family. At first, there were some positive responses, but after a number of false hopes, Bodner gave up the painful process of trying to find his family, and began to wonder if his memories were simply dreams.

Then last year, urged by his grandchildren, he tried again, posting the only clues he had on the internet: A photo of himself, aged five, and another that he believed was a family photo.

Genealogist Ayana KimRon responded to his post. She took one look at that family photo and knew it was not his.

"I said that's not your family. He said, 'Yes, that's me, I'm the baby.' I said, 'No, if that's you where is your brother? Where is the other baby?' I could see he was shocked at that."

Bodner has no memory of how he obtained the photo, only that it was in his pocket the day Auschwitz was liberated.

I am a survivor. Maybe it's in the genes. Maybe it's in my brother's genes as well. We just keep going.
Menachem Bodner

At first, he was crushed. One of the few clues he had was a false start.

But KimRon reminded him that he had another lead, one he would never forget, because it is tattooed on his arm.

The blue ink is faded and stretched, but Bodner quietly reads the Auschwitz ID number that will never be erased: A 7733.

Now he is looking for A 7734: The number of his identical twin brother.

KimRon checked the numbers against official Auschwitz records now archived at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

She discovered Bodner was born Eli Gottesman, in Ukraine. He had an identical twin named Jeno, who was last seen by Allied doctors in Auschwitz.

"We know that he was declared healthy on February 9, 1945, by medical staff," KimRon says. "That is really the last factual reference that I have."

KimRon also found other, more disturbing records, showing that the twins were subjected to experiments by Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor dubbed the "Angel of Death" for his gruesome experiments on humans, particularly twins.

Perhaps thankfully, Bodner has no memory of that.

KimRon has not ventured further into the Nazi historical archives in Berlin to find out more about what happened to Bodner in the camp, and he insists he does not want to know -- but he does want to trace his brother.

Now, the pair have turned to social media for help, setting up a Facebook page, A 7734, which has been viewed more than a million times.

Each time the page is shared, KimRon hopes it brings them one step closer to finding Jeno. Several nurses have contacted her after seeing what might be the matching tattoo.

"It's like a thread," KimRon explains. "There's three types: One that leads to nowhere. One you think will go somewhere, and you reach a deadlock. And then there's one that takes you to your destination."

Bodner's grandchildren tease him that he has become an internet celebrity, even learning some of the lingo.

"I'm like a virus!" he tells KimRon, as she explains the meaning of "going viral."

KimRon has also discovered more surprises about Bodner's family, including the fact that he had a baby brother, Josef, who died in Auschwitz.

Bodner's birth father also died there but his mother, Roza Gottesman-Berger, not only survived several Nazi concentration camps, but returned to her home village of Stroino on the Ukraine-Hungary border, hoping to find her children.

"I saw her signature on the document registering her acceptance of war aid, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck," KimRon recalls.

"I am not a graphologist, but you could see, or I think anyway, she had character, strength despite all that had happened. And she listed the names of her sons too. It was as if she was saying: 'I am here. I am still here.'"

That document is the last evidence of Ruth Gottesman-Berger. KimRon doesn't know exactly what happened to her, though stories from extended family members and villagers say that shortly after her return, she was rounded up with other returning Jewish refugees and shot dead by Nazi-sympathizers.

KimRon says she has no way of confirming that.

The thought of his mother returning to their home village in search of her children makes Bodner both sad and proud.

"I am proud of this woman who did not lose hope and continued to look for us," he tells CNN. "It was a difficult journey in terrible conditions. I would not believe someone could survive all that.

"I think I am also a survivor. Maybe it's in the genes. Maybe it's in my brother's genes as well. We just keep going."

Last year, Bodner returned to the village where he was born for a visit. He met neighbours who described his family as happy, his father a well-regarded doctor and his mother a talented seamstress. They told him they remembered the boisterous blonde twins who played near the house.

"I closed a circle," he says. "It was just good to know that what I was dreaming was real and not my imagination."

Bodner knows only too well that even if he finds Jeno, it may be too late.

Asked what he would say to his brother, his answer is stoic.

"I'm sorry that I did not start looking for him sooner," he says quietly. "There were so many years that I was afraid of even touching the subject."

The search for Jeno is a source of both joy and pain for Bodner, but he is committed to finishing it.

There is one more discovery that has surprised him: His birthday. Until now, he had always celebrated January 27, 1945, the day he left Auschwitz, as his birthday, instead of his real date of birth. So, which day does he choose to celebrate now?

"Both, of course!" he says with a smile. "There is a lot to celebrate."

If you know what happened to Jeno or have other information which may help Menachem Bodner's search, visit his Facebook page: A7734.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT