Reunions
Woman forced to give up baby during WWII reunites with long-lost daughter on her 98th birthday
Luis Gaskell
05.30.22

War has this terrible, terrible effect of separating families. Look to any conflict in history and see how many mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and so on had to say goodbye for their own safety. Mothers can sometimes give up their infants for adoption when circumstances are too unforgiving to raise a child.

Gerda Cole was one such mother. The difficult times amidst World War II forced the Jewish woman to give up her daughter for adoption in 1942.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

The little girl, who wouldn’t know who her real mother was, was adopted by a German couple living in England. Gerda was only 18 when this happened. Being a young mother is tough enough. Imagine being one during a world war.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

That little girl, Sonya Grist, lived the rest of her life with her adoptive parents.

She would then become a mother herself to Stephen Grist, who would play an important part in the rest of this story.

So it came to be that another Jewish family had their lives upended by the Nazis. At least this time, they were both safe.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

It would be 80 years later that Stephen would unknowingly find Gerda again.

It may not be a world war, but Brexit and COVID posed a problem to Stephen’s family as well.

The next part of the story would play when Stephen was seeking to obtain Austrian citizenship. The Austrian government announced that anyone who would prove that their families departed Austria in the 1930s. Stephen knew his maternal grandparents (which Gerda was one of) were Austrian citizens at the time.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, Stephen got searching on as many ancestry websites as he could find. There, he found some of the answers he was looking or, and some that he didn’t expect to find.

He became acquainted with his grandmother’s stepson.

He explained he was applying for Austrian citizenship, and was requesting the stepson for Gerda’s death certificate so he could complete the application process.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

The answer he got was incredible, to say the least. “You’re not going to find Gerda’s death certificate, because she’s still alive and living in a nursing home in Canada”. Wow!

Well, they couldn’t just sit around with this information. Sonya’s mom was still alive! And it’s about time they went to see her. It’s been 80 years for goodness’ sake! Sonya herself said “I want to get on an airplane to Canada right now and give her a big hug” in CBC’s coverage of the story.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

“I still don’t know much and there’s a thousand questions I’ve got to ask her.” – said Sonya

“The idea that her mother was still alive and she would have the opportunity to meet her was so exciting, it just threw us all for a loop.” – Stephen went on to say

The reunion took place on the Saturday of May 7th on her birthday. The celebration doubled as a birthday and reunion. It was a big moment for both mother and daughter.

YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun
Source:
YouTube screenshot - Toronto Sun

“I had very limited personal education, and this, combined with wartime, left me no recourse but to have my daughter Sonya adopted under the advice of the refugee committee.” – Gerda said reading from a piece of paper

But thanks to her grandson, she got to see the daughter she never got to raise. And they were able to share smiles and their first few memories together. Gerda may be 98 now, but better late than never, you know?

Their first bonding day as mother and daughter revealed that they both had a heart for music. Sonya was even in a steel band in her youth, though she tells her mother she wasn’t particularly good.

Watch the video about their reunion below, and be sure to share this article with more people as well!

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By Luis Gaskell
hi@sbly.com
Luis Gaskell is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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