Christmas gift of 2 new aunts as DNA kit traces Holocaust survivor mum’s US half-sisters

Clare Reay’s mum Eva survived a Nazi concentration camp but was separated from her own mum in Auschwitz and her daughter had two aunts who she never knew existed

Clare Reay reunites with her aunts Jean and Dena
Clare Reay reunites with her aunts Jean and Dena

The British daughter of a Holocaust survivor had an emotional reunion with two long lost aunts traced thanks to an online DNA database.

Clare Reay, 53, was born in the UK to her mum Eva, who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Eva was separated from her mum Dora in Auschwitz. She knew little about her early life – including her own date of birth.

She had spent time in an Israeli orphanage after the Second World War and was adopted by a Belgian couple who brought her to England.

It was only when Clare, of Newcastle, was given a DNA kit from genealogy site MyHeritage that she discovered her mother’s family history – and two aunts who she never knew existed.

Clare Reay’s mum Eva/Evelyn, who survived a Nazi concentration camp

Eva, who died in 2014, was born to Dora, a Jewish teenager who had been sent to Auschwitz with her parents from Poland. She was separated from Eva.

Despite desperate searches of orphanages following her release from the Nazis, she was never to see her little girl again.

Eva was adopted and raised in the UK, while Dora settled in the US, where she married and had two more daughters, Jean, now 74, and Dena, 73.

Clare, who has two younger sisters, as well as a brother, was given the DNA kit by her son John as a birthday gift last year.

By an extraordinary stroke of luck, she was immediately identified as the niece of Jean and Dena, who had continued their mother’s search for her long lost daughter.

Clare first spoke with her aunts over Zoom but was unable to travel to the US due to the Covid restrictions until last month, when she surprised the two aunts in their hometown of Louisville, Ohio.

Dora, mother of Eva, Jean, and Dena and grandmother of Clare

Clare told the Mirror: “For us to find them was such a massive bonus, we never expected that at all from the DNA kit. It was a last-minute present from my son John but it has given us so much joy, it was just fantastic to meet them.

“My mum never knew that her mum was still alive, she only ever knew that they had been separated in a concentration camp. She was adopted in an Israeli orphanage and her adoptive parents brought her to the UK.

“She was in Israel until she was seven, her adoptive parents were from Belgium and brought her to the UK. She lived here and me and my brother were born here, but she never knew her own name, she did not know her mum’s name.

Clare with her mother Evelyn and father

“She always presumed her mum had died in the camp, and that was why she was an orphan. Dora passed away in 1998. Jean and Dena knew mum existed but they were discouraged from asking too many questions because it was so upsetting for Dora.

“My mum never dreamt that her own mother was still alive and living in America. Up to her late teens and early 20s, she tried to find what happened to her, but she did not have a name, and so she had no means of checking any records.”

It was in early 2020, after Clare submitted her DNA, that the mystery was finally solved.

The family appears on a passenger list from the U.S.S. General Harry Taylor

Dena received a message from MyHeritage, telling her she had a niece living in the UK.

“I was floored,” recalled Dena. “I called my sister and I said to her:

‘Did you get something from MyHeritage about some DNA results?’”

She told how tracing her long lost family was tinged with sadness because their mother never found out what happened to her daughter.

Passenger list from the Kirnia; Eva is listed as number 9

Clare’s photos of Eva left them in no doubt. “She was the spitting image of her mum,” said Dena.

Clare, an admin worker, admitted: “I just did not believe it at first.

“I just could not believe it was reality. I asked Dena to explain what happened to her mother and sister.

“She told me they were separated in a concentration camp.

“Correspondence and nominal roles, done at Bremen-Grohn: transport by ship (USS GENERAL TAYLOR); transit countries and final destinations: USA,” from the Arolsen Archives

“When she sent a photo of her mother and I had absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was my mother’s mother.

“Then Dena was diagnosed with cancer and the urgency to meet became even greater.”

She had tried to visit the two aunts for 21 months, after their first initial contact and an emotional Zoom call early last year.

Clare and husband Tony, 57, a bricklayer, booked flights three times before US President Joe Biden finally agreed to let in UK nationals last month.

Mum-of-one Clare has discovered her grandmother Dora Mortkowitz was born in Warsaw in 1927.

At the outbreak of WWII, she was sent first to the Ghetto and later to concentration camps with her parents. Some time in the early 1940s, while in a camp and just a teenager herself, Dora gave birth to Eva. One surviving photo shows Dora cradling her toddler daughter.

It is believed Dora’s parents had a jewellery store in Warsaw before the war. Both perished in the Holocaust. Eva’s only official ID document suggested that she was born in the Belsen concentration camp in 1945. But Dora told her family that she had been separated from Eva in Auschwitz.

Jean and Dena promised their mother before her death in 1998 that they would find Eva, who met Clare’s late dad George Reay while working as a receptionist in London, before settling down in his native Newcastle.

Clare finally flew to the US to meet her aunts on Nov 13, and arranged to surprise them before they had two ‘fantastic’ weeks together. The family now hopes to learn more about Dora’s life before the war.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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