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AFTER 52 YEARS OF SEARCHING, TWINS ARE TOGETHER AGAIN

SHARE AFTER 52 YEARS OF SEARCHING, TWINS ARE TOGETHER AGAIN

Ida Paluch was just a toddler when Nazis swept through her Polish ghetto, rounding up Jews. She was too young to understand. But her mother knew the dangers - and the likelihood of death.

One day in the summer of '42, Ester Paluch could cope no more. She ran to a building in the Sosnowiec ghetto as her three children frantically raced to catch up. They never did.She climbed the stairs, then jumped to her death from a window.

Ida and her twin, Adam, were 3 years old then, blond, green-eyed toddlers who had never been apart. They were about to embark on separate, yet ironically parallel paths in life.

They were taken in by Catholic families, given new names and phony birth certificates. They grew up, raised children and though they settled on different continents, they unwittingly shared one seemingly elusive goal: to find any Paluchs who survived the Holocaust.

Ida never forgot Adam. He didn't remember her.

But like two scientists independently searching for the same cure, they persisted, poring over tiny clues, attending meetings, posting notes on bulletin boards, phoning Paluchs all over the world - once even crossing paths.

Then last year, one of Ida's friends sent her an article from a Jewish newspaper in Connecticut, featuring an interview with a Polish Holocaust survivor searching for his family.

His name, Jerzy Dolebski, was not familiar. But his face in the accompanying photo was.

Ida compared the bearded man's earnest gaze with a photo of her mother's bearded father, Moishe. Over and over, she compared them.

"I knew it in my heart," she says. "This was it. He looked like my grandfather."

More than 52 years after Ida last saw Adam, she made a phone call to Poland.

"I think," she told the stranger in the photo, "I am your sister."

* * *

Less than six months after their mother's suicide, the three Paluch children were separated; their aunt Rose, who had taken them in, could no longer feed them.

No one knows the fate of the oldest, Gitla, or Gienia, as she was known in Poland, age 10 at the time.

On Dec. 25, 1942, Ida was given to Wilchelm Maj, one of her aunt's friends, who delivered her to his wife in Czestochowa. "He said I am a Christmas present," she recalls.

Wilchelm and Jozefa Maj were caring parents. "They loved me and spoiled me," Ida recalls with a faint smile, thumbing through a thick album of black-and-white photos chronicling her childhood.

Ida was baptized Irena and with her fair complexion and hair, everyone thought she was Christian. So did she.

"I learned from the children in the streets to hate Jews," she says. "I was afraid Jewish children were going to catch me, kill me and use my blood for matzo."

Within three months, her new father, a Polish partisan, was killed; Jozefa Maj scraped by selling black-market alcohol and tobacco on the trains, Ida tagging along.

After the war, Ida's father, Chaim, who had been liberated by the Russians, tracked down his youngest daughter; he believed his other children were killed. Ida wanted no part of this Yiddish-speaking Jewish stranger, even when he brought her a picture of her mother.

"He wore a cross on his neck so I wouldn't suspect him, that poor man," Ida says. "He used to help me up," she adds, mimicking how he would hoist her on her shoulders, "so I could kiss all the saints on the wall. Later, he told me his heart was bleeding."

She returned to her father, who remarried, re-established her Jewish identity - her hallway wall is decorated with Star of David signs and the slogan `Never Again' - and immigrated to Israel in 1957. He died in 1976.

She married, had a daughter, then in 1963 joined two aunts in Skokie, a northern Chicago suburb with thousands of Holocaust survivors.

Through it all, she never abandoned hope she'd find someone in her family.

Every Yom Kippur, when she said Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, she never uttered Adam's name. "I always thought he may be somewhere," she says. "Miracles happen. I was always looking."

She wrote the Red Cross, attended Holocaust survivor group meetings, including a 1991 New York gathering Adam almost visited. While there, she tacked on a bulletin board a photo of all three siblings, the twins on their mother's lap. No one recognized the faces.

A detective friend gave Ida a list of Paluchs in the United States; she called dozens, to no avail. When she took far-flung vacations, to Brazil or Paris, she checked phone books for Paluchs, calling again - to no avail.

"People always told me children did not survive," she says. "They needed someone to protect them."

When an aunt died last year, Ida was given a photo of her maternal grandparents. Then her friend sent her the Jewish newspaper article featuring Dolebski.

After studying the similarity in photos, she contacted the reporter and obtained his phone number. Four months passed before she called.

"I just couldn't believe something like this can happen to me," she says. "God forbid it's not true. . . . I didn't want to find out it was not him . . . . One night I finally decided I have to do something."

* * *

Adam, who grew up as Jerzy Dolebski, doesn't remember the day his mother killed herself.

For years, he searched for her, unaware his twin even existed.

His first memories are as a 5-year-old living with a Catholic couple, Jan and Leokadia Dolebski, in Lublin.

"I always felt different," he says in halting English, sitting next to his sister in her home. At first, Leokadia Dolebski told him he was illegitimate, but he found a wedding certificate proving that was wrong.

Then, he was told he was found in an abandoned building.

"Every time they gave me a new story so I stopped believing them," he says. So he began running away, always when the first snow fell, aimlessly riding trains hoping he would be recognized and reunited with his mother.

He suspected he was Jewish because he was circumcised. But repeated attempts to trace his family failed.

"There was silence," he says, his sister translating his Polish. "It was like a family secret . . . . Everybody would say, `What are you looking for? Why do you need this in your life?' I wanted to know who I really was."

After attending school, he took jobs that allowed him to travel, working for a time as a ship navigator, venturing to South America and China, always trying to make contacts in the Jewish community.

Dolebski married a Catholic woman and they have three sons in their 20s, but he says: "All my life I am Jewish. I never hid it. I told my wife it was not going to be easy for her."

He also joined Holocaust survivor groups - in Poland - and told his story to reporters, hoping, but doubting it would lead anywhere.

Three years ago, he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem's Western Wall, where he tucked a note of prayer in a crevice. His wish?

To find his family.

* * *

When Ida first called Dolebski, he didn't think she was his sister.

But after she faxed him their childhood picture, his son, Peter, noticed his own striking resemblance to Ida. More pictures showed more similarities.

He called back. He was convinced.

This spring, the two reunited in a tearful airport reunion in Warsaw. "It's strange for me to say brother. I thought it will never happen," she sobbed, holding his face in her hands in a scene captured by Polish TV. "I can't look at you enough."

Today, Ida is pale and blonde, her hair held back from her narrow face with barrettes.

Her brother is swarthy, with graying temples and thick eyebrows framing a rounder face.

But quickly, they note their similarities: green eyes, wide lips. And smiling, they raise their hands simultaneously to display crooked fingers.

Ida says she needs no scientific proof they're twins. "God gave me a blessing," she says. "Am I going to question God?"

This spring, they journeyed back to their childhood home and obtained their mother's death certificate, but couldn't find her grave. They did, however, locate the building where Ester Paluch committed suicide.

A half century has passed and the little blond girl is now a grandmother of two, but Ida remembered every detail from the size of the broom closet to the location of the entrance. "It was horrible," she shudders.

Dolebksi, who plans to change his name back to Paluch, arrived here in early summer and has been living with Ida and her second husband, learning English and hoping to find a sponsor and a job so he can bring his family to America.

"I never dreamed I'd be here," he says. "I never expected to find any of my family alive."

In late July, Ida and Adam traveled to England to meet another Paluch, their first cousin, Denise, who lives in London. The meeting was arranged and taped by a TV show there, which tracked down Ida through a Holocaust survivor's registry.

In recent months, brother and sister have discovered common bonds: Both like ice cream and dislike rock 'n' roll. One night, they began humming the same Polish lullaby together, a song about two cats.

They are so alike, Ida says, that one day they recorded their thoughts separately and wrote the same thing: "Too bad we didn't meet each other 30 years ago."

Ida worries about her brother's diabetes and recent cataract surgery. He teases her about her mothering.

But they bask in each other's company.

"One miracle is we survived," she says. "The second is we got together. The third would be that we are joined by our sister."

Each afternoon, when Ida leaves her bookkeeping job, she rushes to her house.

"I can't wait to get home to see him," she says. "I'm afraid he's going to disappear. . . . We cannot separate anymore. It would be a tragedy."