by Jacquelyn Silverman
I wish my grandfather, Ben Nachman, were still alive today so he could celebrate a miracle with his family. In August, over 100 Belzer Family members will gather in Omaha to meet the family of one of Ben’s uncles who he thought had died in the Holocaust. The story begins in 1913 in western Ukraine where Ben’s mother, along with her six siblings and her parents, started their immigration to America, specifically to Omaha, where a distant family relative had already settled.
It took nearly ten years for Malach and Ethel Belzer (Ben’s grandparents) and six of their seven children (in birth order: Ida Belzer-Hornstein, Lena Belzer-Nachman (Ben’s mother), Jennie Belzer-Handleman, Nate Belzer, Esther Belzer-Zlotkin, Moishe Belzer, and Riva Belzer-Diamond-Savin-Goldenberg) to be reunited, except for Moishe, who chose to stay in Russia and fight in the Russian army. For years, letters were written and exchanged between the Belzers in Omaha and Moishe, and he shared with the family the wonderful news that he got married and had five children. Suddenly in 1941, the letters ceased and no more correspondence was ever again had between the Belzers and Moishe. With heavy hearts, the family came to terms with the probable fact that Moishe, his wife and their five children died in the Holocaust.
My mother, Nancy Nachman Silverman, recalls as a young girl hearing her grandmother and her sisters talking about and even crying over their brother, Moishe, whom they thought had died. He was, after all, one of the youngest of all the siblings, and the sorrow they felt over knowing they would never be reunited with their baby brother was heart wrenching.
Fast-forward 100 years to February 2014, when the genetic testing company, 23andme, made a connection no one had seen coming. A man named Roman Belzer (whom we would soon find out is our distant relative) had been curious about some of his own health related matters and through the suggestion of his wife, he sent in his DNA for testing and received three Belzer names that matched his sample. Roman reached out to the Belzers to see if they were related by presenting a story only we would know to be true.
In 1929, Malach, Roman’s great-grandfather, was tragically killed in Omaha when he was thrown from his horse and cart. Roman also knew that his grandfather’s parents and five siblings immigrated to Omaha, Nebraska. Ironically, three of Moishe’s five children moved to America. The family was amazed to find that Roman is the grandson of Moishe Belzer, who did not die in the Holocaust. Addresses changed, the Belzer sisters got married and had new last names, and letters were lost in the mail; many of the reasons behind the ceased communication.
Coming to Omaha for the celebration in August is Roman Belzer, along with his father and uncle (two of Moishe’s sons), as well as several other offspring from Moishe’s lineage. There will be descendants from the other branches of the Belzer family tree as well. It will be nothing short of a miracle to gather together once again, in the place where it all began, 100 years ago, in Omaha, Nebraska, when over 100 Belzer Family members will reunite.
What a joy it would be to have my grandfather, Ben Nachman as well as many other dearly departed loved ones, alive today so they, too, could celebrate with us. Those who have gone before us will be there in our hearts as we celebrate our family’s miracle.