A Family Found
by Artie Dean
I have been writing stories and
essays for my local Jewish paper, the
Jewish Leader of Eastern Connecticut,
for many years. From time to time
someone stops me to say they read my
column. On occasion I receive a phone
call or an acknowledgement from a fellow
minyan attendee that something I wrote made
them smile. I like to hear from my readers,
to know that something that I put down
on paper struck their fancy.
“The Kiddush Cup,” a story I had
written for the Leader that was then published
in CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti
Judaism (Spring 2012), is the story of a
unique family heirloom. While my father
was a British soldier occupying Germany at
the conclusion of World War II he had a silversmith
cast a kiddush cup from melted
German coins. When my father returned
to London on leave he brought the cup as
a gift for my grandfather. The cup was
handed down to me a few years before my
father passed away. Imagine my anguish
when this treasure fell into my garbage
disposal one Shabbat evening after dinner.
It took many months to have it restored.
After the story appeared in CJ, well wishers
called my mother. Long lost friends called
me. A rabbi in Israel decided to use the story
in a course about traditions. I was flattered
by the attention, but nothing could have
prepared me for the call I got one evening
“Hello. You don’t know me, but I read
your story in CJ magazine,” the caller began.
I glanced at the caller ID; we don’t get many
telemarketing calls from Ottawa, Canada.
“A couple of friends told me to read your
story,” he continued. “I really liked it.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that,” I said, flattered.
“I see that your father changed his name
from Diener to Dean during the war.”
I listened, happy to discuss anything about
my writing. Then he dropped his bombshell.
“My name is John Diener. Where was
your grandfather born? Mine was born in
a little town in Poland named Grzymalow.”
I called to my wife who, organized whiz
that she is, brought me a sheath of papers
detailing our family tree, a document I
had prepared years ago. The breath caught
in my throat, and I became aware of my
heartbeat. “My grandfather was also from
Grzymalow,” I said in a whisper. I had never
met another Diener, and was convinced that
they all perished in the Holocaust. After the
war my father was stationed in Stuttgart,
Germany. He tried, to no avail, to find
any remnants of his family. He wrote letters
to the Central Committee for Liberated Jews
in the U.S. Zone. He visited concentration
camps. He left Europe believing that
all his relatives who remained in Poland were
slaughtered by the Nazis.
I continued reading to John from my
notes. “My grandfather, Joseph, had three
sisters – Frima, Dina and Freida – and his
father’s name was Ephraim.” There was a
long pause on the other end of the phone.
Had I bored my newfound friend? “Hello,
are you there?” I asked.
“Ephraim was my grandfather’s brother’s
name,” John said. “Artie, I think we’re
I looked up at my wife, my vision
“What is it?”
“I think I just found part of my
What followed over the next week was
a flurry of emails and phone calls that electrified
my usually calm household. It turns
out that John is 58, exactly my age. His
father, Nathan, survived a concentration
camp. After the war he was sponsored by
relatives in Canada and immigrated to
Ottawa. I remember meeting those two
relatives as a young boy when they came
to visit my grandfather in the Catskill
John, a genealogy buff, writes a column
on genealogy for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin,
which explains why he took the time
to find me. He sent me copies of documents
that chronicle my father’s history: the 1949
ship’s manifest of the Queen Mary listing
my father and his parents as passengers on
the trip that brought them to the United
States; a letter my father wrote to authorities
in Germany hoping to find any surviving
members of the family; a U.S. social
security application that my grandfather,
Joseph Diener, prepared listing Gryzmalow
as his town of birth. To my amazement, my
new Canadian cousin has been searching
for information on my father and grandfather
for years, ever since he found a copy
of my father’s post-war inquiry in a German
The news is a bit overwhelming. I’m
thrilled to think that a branch of my family
survived the Holocaust and took root
in Canada, but saddened to think that I
might have found them sooner if only I knew
how to look.
John contacted our mutual relatives in
London and Paris, distant cousins who lived
near my grandparents in London during the
Blitz. We exchanged emails and I sent them
pictures of my family. They remember meeting
my father and grandparents at a bar mitzvah
in London before they left for America.
The little hairs on the back of my neck stand
on end when I think that the near-destruction
of a kiddush cup lead to these revelations.
I wish my father were alive so I could
share the news.
My wife and I are making plans to visit
Ottawa to meet John Diener and his family.
A trip to London and Paris to search
for my other relations might be next.
Washington Heights, the New York City
neighborhood I grew up in, was a melting
pot filled with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.
Many of my oldest friends are first
generation Americans who lost their families
as I did. While we tried to become all-
American kids, embracing stickball and
baseball and sports of every kind, we were
indelibly marked by our parents’ experiences.
Now that my generation is approaching
60, many of us are researching our pasts.
Some travel to Europe to see where their
parents were born. Some search for distant
relatives hoping for clues to a lost world.
Others stay at home and use the internet for
genealogical research. I got lucky. Through
a series of incredible coincidences my article
in CJ allowed my family to find me.
If you’re curious, there are free genealogical
websites that might hold surprises.
Try jewishgen.org, yadvashem.org, myheritage.com, or familysearch.org to get started.
You may not be as alone as you think.
Artie Dean is a periodontist who lives in Waterford,
Connecticut, and is a member of Congregation
Beth El in New London. He writes
a biweekly column for the Jewish Leader of
Southeastern Connecticut and is publishing
a book of short stories.