a A

Reunited After Six Decades

The two cousins Maja Telegina and Katharina Lapuchin were separated for over 63 years. The post-war confusion had torn them apart in 1945. Yet over the years, they had never given up the hope of seeing one another again. The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen has now been able to reunite the family. “I still can’t believe it,” says Maja with joy.

The Werra determined the fate of the cousins back in 1945. The Russians were on one side of the river, the Americans on the other. Katharina was with her mother and grandmother on a farm in Ermschwerd near Witzenhausen, Maja was with her mother Anna at the Freudenthal estate—the linear distance between the two families was not even two kilometres. When they wanted to visit each other after the war ended, the flat where Anna and Maja had lived was suddenly empty. “The Russians abducted them,” says Katharina. “There was only a smashed pair of glasses left lying on the floor.”

It was the second abduction the family was forced to experience. First the Nazis had moved the Volga Germans from the Belarusian city of Minsk to various camps in Poland before they were transported to Germany to work as farmhands.  The Germans shot Maja’s Jewish father Lew when they invaded the city in 1941. Grandmother Agnes, her two daughters and her grandchildren ultimately became citizens of the German Reich in the North-Hessian town of Witzenhausen.

Yet at the end of the war, the family was doomed by its own origins. At first the Russians held Anna and her daughter Maja for their fellow countrymen, but then they found their German documents, convicted Anna of treason and sentenced her to 25 years in a prison camp.  Stalin’s terror was the follow-up to the Nazi terror.

Maja was sent to a children’s home where she had to stay until she turned 18. “For five whole years, my mother didn’t even know where they had brought me,” she explains. A phase of uncertainty began for her. If I see my mother again, am I a Russian or a German, and do I even have any relatives left—questions like these gripped her. Her memories of wartime were sparse and she knew nothing of her father’s fate. Maja’s mother died in 1982 and left behind a message for her: “Search for your roots in Germany.”

Maja first heard of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen in 1998. Then she got her biggest lead in 2006 when she discovered the town name of Witzenhausen in her mother’s old documents. ITS found some files on the family regarding farm labour, did research in the community, and came upon Katharina Lapuchin. “I had always thought of my cousin, but after six decades I had given up hope,” says the Hessian. For years she had accompanied her grandmother Agnes and her mother to the reception camp in Friedland where they enquired about their family in vain.

It is not a matter of course that Katharina still lives in Germany today. Her family emigrated to Canada in 1953 and she only stayed on because she was already married to a German. The cousins’ reunion was tearful when they saw each other again for the first time at the airport on the 21st of September 2008. “We were complete strangers to one another at first, it was nearly a shock,” says Katharina. But then their emotions got hold of them and ever since, the freshly reunited family always has a tissue ready to wipe away the tears.

At ITS, the cousins looked through their family’s files and had the research procedure explained to them. Again and again, Maja said “spaciba” – “thank you”. She found her roots and she now has a family in Germany. Katharina is planning a visit in return to Maja’s town of Archangelsk.