British man who survived concentration camp as baby finally learns his family’s identity

A Holocaust orphan, Jackie Young has painfully and unsuccessfully searched for the identity of his biological father for most of his life.

He has known for decades that he was born to a Viennese Jewish woman in her early 30s, who was deported in June 1942 to Maly Trostenets, a Nazi killing center near Minsk, Belarus, where she was been murdered. The woman’s name, Elsa Spiegel, appears on Young’s original birth certificate. It was noted that she was unmarried, and the space for the father’s name was left blank.

Young miraculously survived as an orphan for two years and eight months in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) camp-ghetto in Czechoslovakia.

Now, with the help of two specialists in Jewish genetic genealogy, Young not only knows his father’s name, but also that he has living relatives on his paternal side in the US, UK, France. , in Israel and possibly in Hungary.

“I have been waiting for this news for six decades. I am no longer alone,” said the 80-year-old retired London taxi driver. As far as he knows, he was the only child of his biological parents and adoptive parents, Ralph and Annie Young (Yanofsky).

Young came to the attention of American genealogists Jennifer Mendelsohn and Dr. Adina Newman through a Times of Israel article about Young’s appearance on the BBC television show, “DNA Family Secrets.” Mendelsohn and Newman are administrators of the 10,000-member Jewish DNA for Genetic Genealogy and Family Research Facebook group.

The BBC show’s geneticist, Dr Turi King, managed to allay Young’s long-held fear that his biological father was a Nazi.

Young had speculated that the only way for him to survive Terezin was if his father was a Nazi who protected him from mistreatment and to be one of 9,001 children deported to extermination camps in the is.

Jackie Young in the UK before her adoption by British Jewish couple Ralph and Annie Young. (Courtesy)

“The result was really clear,” King said of Young’s DNA test. “You come back as a 99% Ashkenazi Jew. So we almost certainly think your father was not a Nazi.

The “DNA Family Secrets” team was able to locate two once-distant second cousins ​​(a brother and a sister) on Young’s paternal side. Coincidentally, they live not far from Young in North London. Young and his wife Lita have since met them and are in regular contact.

Genealogist Mendelsohn told The Times of Israel: “We thought that with our specialist knowledge and experience of Jewish genealogy, and Jewish genetic genealogy in particular, we could further Jackie’s research.

According to Newman, Jewish genealogical research with historical documents and records requires special expertise, and Jewish DNA is tricky.

“Because Ashkenazi Jews are an endogamous population, people may appear to be closer relatives based on their DNA than they actually are on paper according to historical records and family trees,” she said. declared.

Within five days of reaching Young in early June to request his DNA test results and permission to do research on his behalf, Mendelsohn and Newman had answers. Not only did they identify Young’s biological father, but they were also able to reverse engineer a family tree based on matches in DNA databases and historical records. The tree dates back to the early 1800s and Young’s second great-grandparents. The family was based in Lackenbach, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now in Austria.

Jennifer Mendelsohn (Matt Mendelsohn Photography)

“Let me run my computer,” said a proud youngster, showing The Times of Israel on Zoom how he printed the family tree, framed it and put it on his wall at home.

A family is born

Young’s father was Adolf Kornfein and he was born in 1894. It seems that Kornfein, a tailor, was in a relationship with the much younger Elsa Spiegel following a divorce or separation from his woman.

“We can assume this from the documents showing that Kornfein, his wife Hilda (née Schlesinger) and his teenage son Wilhelm lived together at the same address in Vienna in 1938. But in 1942 he lived alone at a different address,” said said Mendelsohn. .

Three-year-old Jackie Young (then Jona Spiegel) with British airmen on his arrival in the UK after World War II. (Courtesy)

Records showed that on June 2, 1942, Adolf and Elsa were both in transport to Maly Trostenets. Hilda and Wilhelm were deported to Auschwitz on July 17, 1942.

“We were able to establish that Adolf and Elsa lived a short distance from each other at that time. We don’t know if they were in the same transport because they were together, or simply because the Nazis were rounding up all the Jews living in a certain area,” Newman said.

Elsa Spiegel handed her baby, named Yona Jakob Spiegel, and born in the Rothschild-Spital (Jewish hospital) on December 18, 1941, to an orphanage before her deportation. Young found two accounts of him, one saying he was three and a half months old and another that he was five and a half months old.

Jackie Young (formerly Jona Spiegel) a few years after arriving in the UK as an orphan from the Terezin ghetto camp. (Courtesy)

Young was deported to Terezin in September 1942 and was buried there between the ages of nine months and three and a half years. He was able to establish that he was the only survivor among the 15 children without parents who were with him in the same transport to the camp.

“The only explanation I can come up with for being taken care of and surviving is that I had to be a pawn in the Nazi propaganda campaign to deceive the Red Cross,” Young said.

Newman agreed with the guess saying, “Just look at the pictures of him when he was a boy. He was a lovely child. It certainly could have been used for show by the Nazis.

Still looking for her maternal roots

While Young finally learned of his father and paternal family recently, he gradually and painstakingly uncovered information about his mother over the decades.

As a teenager, a relative let slip that he was born in Vienna. However, his adoptive parents hid from him that he was a concentration camp survivor. It was only when he needed proof of his Jewishness to marry in a synagogue that he learned of this sad fact. Even then, his adoptive parents did not want him to read the relevant materials, and they remained uncooperative for the rest of their lives.

All these years later, he still doesn’t know much about his biological mother and her family.

Jackie Young with her adoptive parents Ralph and Annie Young at her bar mitzvah in London in 1954. (Courtesy)

“Unfortunately we can’t help Jackie at this point because there aren’t as many records to build a [family] tree for Elsa Spiegel, and there are no true matches for Jackie’s maternal DNA in any databases that we could place,” Newman said.

Young recorded his experiences in search of his roots over the years. They were published online as “Lost and Waiting to Be Found” in “WW2 People’s War: An archive of World War Two networks – written by the public, published by the BBC”.

Active in Holocaust survivor groups and eager to engage anyone who might be able to help him, Young nevertheless faced many obstacles and dead ends during his travels to Israel, Vienna, Prague, Terezin and in Belarus to find answers. With the unwavering help and support of his wife, he made repeated inquiries with several organizations and archives.

Jackie Young with his wife Lita around the time they married in 1963. (Courtesy)

Sadly, not much has been revealed about his mother other than the rudimentary facts about his immediate family. He only knows that she was born in 1909 in Vienna to Emilie (née Schwartz) and Leopold Spiegel, married in Czechoslovakia. Leopold was deported to Terezin from a retirement home and Emilie died before the war. Elsa was a milliner and she had an older sister named Hilde and a brother named Rudolph, whose fate is unknown.

Young was able to find details of his early years in the records of the children’s homes where he lived after arriving in the UK in the late summer of 1945. Young was one of a group of 300 surviving children from the Holocaust airlifted to Britain from Czechoslovakia after the war. Most went to Israel, but 32 of the youngest children remained in the UK, with the six youngest being placed for the first year in a Sussex home called Bulldog’s Bank. There he was cared for by sisters Sophie and Gertrude Dann and Anna Freud – Sigmund’s daughter who was to become a leading psychoanalyst.

A young Jackie Young (then known as Jona Spiegel), at the head of the table on the right, at mealtimes at Bulldog’s Bank in Sussex, where he lived during his first year in the UK under the supervision of Anna Freud and sisters Sophie and Gertrude Dann. (Courtesy)

Young was later transferred to a home for older Jewish children run by a woman named Alice Goldberger. She arranged for his adoption in London at the age of nine by the Youngs.

Science gets involved

Dr. Adina Newman specializes in Jewish genetic genealogy. (Courtesy)

To confirm their findings, Mendelsohn and Newman had to find a close relative on Young’s biological paternal side to take a DNA test to prove the genetic match. Adolf Kornfein had four siblings. Genealogists have found the only grandson of Adolf’s brother Samuel in the United States, Bill Kornfein. He agreed to take the test.

“Our daughters are adopted and we always hoped that if they wanted to look for their biological parents, someone would help them in their search,” Kornfein said of his decision to provide his DNA.

Then came the wait to see if there was indeed a match with Young.

“We sat on pins and needles for four to five weeks until the results came back,” Mendelsohn said.

Kornfein, a retired St. Louis-area attorney, is indeed Young’s first cousin once removed. Both of his parents were Holocaust survivors and he was born in Switzerland, where they fled during the war. He and his wife are thrilled to find out about this new relationship and have called, emailed and shared photos with Young and his wife.

Londoner Jackie Young’s new cousin in the US, Bill Kornfein (Courtesy)

“We are so thrilled for Jackie. We hope to meet him and Lita in person in the future,” Kornfein said.

Both Mendelsohn and Newman said they were especially happy to be able to help Holocaust survivors like Young.

“This is a real example of how genetic genealogy can make huge mitzvot [good deeds] in this world. That’s the kind of thing we should be doing with DNA,” Newman said.

Comments are closed.