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Polish family torn apart by World War II reunites

September 17, 1997

BERLIN (AP) _ Sigmund Szymanski hadn’t seen his older brother since the Nazis sent him to a forced labor camp, but he was sure he’d recognize Henry on sight.

``We always looked a lot alike _ almost twins,″ said the 69-year-old Sigmund before Henry’s flight from the United States arrived Tuesday.

After more than a half-century, they still do. Sigmund and another brother, Conrad, spotted their long-lost sibling through glass doors as he waited for his baggage, then broke down in tears, kisses and hugs all around when he came out of customs.

``It’s very hard to express, really. The feeling inside is something hindering me to say what I want to say,″ said Henry, 75, of Niles, Ill. ``I look at both of them and, God Almighty, they were kids last time I saw them. And now here we are after so many years.″

The family of Polish Catholics lived in what is now Gdansk, Poland, and lost contact during World War II.

Henry was sent by the Nazis to Germany in 1942 to work on a farm. After the war, he ended up in a displaced persons camp and settled in the United States in 1949.

He tried to track down his relatives in the 1950s, ``but it was very hard to obtain from the East any information,″ he said. ``Now that the borders have been opened, the documents are coming too.″

In 1992, Henry wrote to the Red Cross office in Chicago asking for help in tracing his family. The American Red Cross had set up a program two years earlier to take advantage of files newly released by the Soviet Union.

Henry, a retired transportation manager for a paper company, learned that his whole family survived the war, although his parents and two sisters had since died.

Conrad had been drafted into the German army and sent to Russia, where he was captured and imprisoned. Sigmund remained in Gdansk until the end of the war, and later moved to Berlin.

Today, Sigmund lives in Berlin, and Conrad, 72, in southeast Germany.

``After so long, first comes the joy and then the curiosity,″ Sigmund said. ``I want to know so, so much from him.″

The first hours together were spent hashing over old memories in a mixture of Polish, German and English. ``We’re like little kids,″ Henry said.

After a couple days in Berlin, the three brothers planned to drive to Gdansk for another reunion with the rest of their family, including two other brothers, 80-year-old Nicoden and 67-year-old Mieczyslaw.

Red Cross spokeswoman Ann Stingle said its tracing program has located 614 living relatives since 1990 and confirmed 1,379 deaths _ ``which is also important to people.″

Red Cross offices nationwide still receive requests for help, although the passage of time makes the searches harder, she said. ``You can really see the sands in the hourglass.″

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