Childhood best friends Ana María Wahrenberg and Betty Grebenschikoff said goodbye to each other on a German schoolyard in May 1939.
Now, schoolmates, who divorced at just nine years old when their Jewish families were forced to flee the Nazis, have hugged each other personally again after spending more than eight decades in fear that the other had died in Holocaust.
But in a hotel room in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 5, the 91-year-olds were finally physically reunited thanks to USC Shoah Foundation – a non-profit organization founded by Steven Spielberg that records and preserves audiovisual memories of Holocaust survivors.
Grebenschikoff was one of 20,000 European Jews to settle in Shanghai, while Wahrenberg and her family had fled to Santiago, Chile. Both had contacted databases to search for the other, but it was only when an indexer at the foundation noticed similarities in their accounts that they finally provided feedback.
“It felt like coming home,” Grebenschikoff told the Washington Post after their reunion and added that her friend “was always in my thoughts. We just had this feeling, like we really belonged together.”
“It was very emotional,” Wahrenberg said. “It was like we never divorced. It was very special that two people, after 82 years, still love each other.”
The couple, both widows, said they then spent four days shopping, talking, eating and drinking champagne.
“We are not the girls we used to be when we were nine, that’s for sure, but we kept giggling as if we were little children,” Grebenschikoff told Posten. “It was such a joy for both of us.”
After Wahrenberg spoke at a virtual Kristallnacht event, a Shoah Foundation indexer, Ita Gordon, recalled the testimony Grebenschikoff had given the foundation 24 years earlier and made the connection between the two women’s stories.
“These two remarkable women who are reconnected after losing each other are such proof of hope,” Senior Director Kori Street said earlier this year.
After meeting in Florida this month, Grebenschikoff said their reunion had proven that “good things can happen from a bad experience. It was the silver lining of all silver lining. It was the fulfillment of a dream.”