Family connections, lost and found

Carol Janovsky reconnects with her German relatives at a family wedding. Pictured, from left, are: Karla Specht, Carol Janovsky, Tilo Specht, Doreen Madere, Jon and Danielle Filipkowski, Mark Madere, Jacqui Madere and Dale Janovsky. Photo courtesy Carol Janovsky

My maternal grandmother, Emilie, and her sister, Frederica, emigrated from Germany in the mid-1880s. They settled in Cleveland, married and raised their families. Their brother, Carl, remained in Germany. Grandma Emilie corresponded with her family until her death in 1937 when her daughter, Emily, took over until World War II ended communications.

After Germany's surrender in 1945, Emily wrote to Carl's granddaughter, Hilda Specht, at her last known address in Stettin, a large seaport by the Baltic Sea. Emily told Hilda if she received the letter and wanted her help she would support her. Hilda had a friend who worked in the post office. One day she stopped in and her friend said, “Wait a minute, I have a letter for you.” Bingo! A connection was made!

In 1947, Hilda and her husband were expecting their first child, a son they named Tilo. Hilda said Emily sent so many baby things that she had enough for eight babies. She shared them with friends and neighbors who were expecting.

In the early 1950s, Germany was divided into three sectors, American, British and Russian. Unfortunately, the Spechts lived in the eastern part of Germany which became the Russian sector controlled by the Communist dictator, Josef Stalin. The Berlin Wall went up and the Cold War began.

Over time, communication between my family on the American side and our German relatives faded away.

Let's fast forward to the 21st century. My cousin and Frederica's grandson, Richard Meyer, and his wife, Carolyn, became interested in genealogy. Their son Carl accessed the German phone book on the internet and found the name Tilo Specht living in Berlin. Carl gave the address to Richard, saying, “Now Dad, if you write to this guy, it's a one in a million chance.” Richard replied, “I know, but I am going to write anyway.”

Within weeks the reply came, stating, “I am him” in English. I wrote back to Tilo and his answer included copies of photos of me as a teenager that Emily sent Hilda years ago. Proof positive, we had found our family again!

In 2003, I wrote Tilo and his wife, Karla, that I was going to visit my English pen pal. Karla answered, “As long as you're coming this far, you must fly to Berlin. We will meet you and you must spend time with us!” So, I did!

There was my family in the airport waving their arms vigorously! Hilda was so grateful for my Aunt Emily's support after the war that her family treated me like a queen. Wouldn't let me spend a dime! Tilo and Karla visited the U.S. several times, including flying over for my granddaughter, Danielle, and Jon's wedding. They sent them an invitation NEVER expecting them to attend. It made the wedding extra special.

Sadly, due to their failing health and my age, visits are over. We still write by “snail mail” though. Was it a lucky coincidence we reconnected TWICE over 80 years or was it God's hand in this the whole time? I choose to believe the latter.

Carol Janovsky

Resident at Knickerbocker Apartments 

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Volume 7, Issue 20, Posted 10:17 AM, 10.20.2015