After years of searching, Lionel Rossler nearly gave up hope of finding the Belgian family that hid his father and grandmother from the Nazis during World War II.
He posted a message on social media as a final act of desperation, not expecting a response.
To his surprise, a MyHeritage genealogist in Belgium answered and offered to help.
The events that followed resulted in an emotional reunion between Rossler’s 83-year-old father and the descendants of the man who rescued him and his grandmother in the very home where it all happened almost 80 years ago.
“It’s a culmination and a relief,” Rossler told the Deseret News. “This fills me with a feeling of unbridled joy and a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.”
Hidden by the Bourlet family
Born in 1938, David Rossler (born with the surname Langa, he later took the last name of his stepfather, who was a survivor of Auschwitz) and his family lived in Brussels, Belgium, when the persecution of the Jewish community began. The family moved around for the next few years, and at one point, his father and uncle were arrested by the Germans and were never seen again.
Young David and his mother found temporary refuge in a Catholic convent until it was raided. They managed to escape.
The mother and her son were then taken in by Georges Bourlet and his four children in Auderghem in 1944, according to Lionel Rossler.
“Because of his heroic action, Georges was able to save the lives of my father and grandmother,” Lionel Rossler told MyHeritage. “Nine people were saved thanks to what he did; my brother, myself and our children would not be here today if not for his courage and kindness.”
David’s mother remarried after the war and they moved to Austria. They lost contact with the Bourlet family.
Finding the Bourlet family
Lionel Rossler said he searched for years to find the Bourlet family in an effort to thank them and preserve his father’s experience for future generations, but he had been unsuccessful.
Finally he turned to social media for help last January. He wrote a message in French on Facebook: “I am looking for the descendants of the Bourlet family. ... This family was composed of the father, two daughters and two sons.”
“Ignoring the post was not an option for me. I felt compelled to help,” Cappart said. “Plus, I love a good research challenge!”
Cappart used MyHeritage’s online archive of 16 billion records to track down one of Bourlet’s grandsons and other descendants, including those who still owned the home in Auderghem. It became the ideal location for a special reunion.
Returning to the Bourlet home
David and Lionel Rossler’s meeting with the family of Georges Bourlet came about two months after his social media post. It was a meaningful experience for all involved.
MyHeritage created a YouTube video in French with English subtitles to share the story.
David was grateful for the opportunity to stand in the home where he and his mother were saved more than seven decades ago and personally thank the Bourlet family. As he did so, he began to weep and covered his face with his hands.
“The fact that I’m alive, the fact that I have a family that I am very, very proud of, very happy with, I would tell him that,” David Rossler said in the video. “It is thanks to him.”
The Rosslers hope to make a case to Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in hopes that Georges Bourlet will be recognized and granted the title of “Righteous Among the Nations.”
“In Jewish tradition, there is a saying that ‘He who saves one life saves all of humanity,’” Lionel Rossler said in the video. “Today we could say that there are nine lives here today, thanks to his actions.”
It was the first time the Bourlet descendants had heard the full story. They were “astonished,” they wrote in an email. Meeting the Rosslers also helped them to better appreciate their grandfather’s life and heroic deeds, the family said.
Cappart was grateful to play a role in the unique reunion. She viewed her efforts as a tribute to her own grandfather and husband’s grandfather, who were victims in the war.
“It’s humbling and nothing compared to the wonderful sacrifice Georges Bourlet made, risking his life to save a whole family,” she said. “It’s a great honor to have added a little stone to this important memorial road. I’m a big believer in family history being brought to life through small actions we can do today to enrich our connection to our past.”
The overall experience has changed Lionel Rossler’s life.
“It has given me a renewed perspective on the importance of this essential work of digging into one’s family history and memory,” he said. “That time passes quickly and we shouldn’t push off projects that are important to us. The survivors of the Holocaust will soon disappear and it is essential to try to make sure that they can witness moments like this.”