Reunions
Childhood best friends separated while escaping Nazis finally embrace again after 82 years
They were just 9 years old when they were separated during the Holocaust but when they reunited at 91 years old...it was clear their bond never weakened.
Eduardo Gaskell
12.07.21

Betty Grebenschikoff never thought she’d see her childhood best friend Ana María Wahrenberg again.

The last time Betty and Ana saw each other was in 1939. The girls were only 9 when they were forced to leave and escape the Holocaust of WW2. The Berlin school was the last place they saw each other.

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Grebenschikoff thought Wahrenberg had died. But after 82 years apart, the 2 ladies saw each other once again. This time, they were 91 years old.

“It felt like coming home,” Grebenschikoff said.

Wahrenberg agreed, saying, “It was very emotional. It was like we were never separated.”

Both women had changed their names later in life so all their efforts searching for each other were in vain. Both survived the Holocaust and yet all those decades looking left both women wondering if they’d ever meet again.

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“She is now called Ana Maria. She remembers me by my previous name of Ilse Kohn,” said Grebenschikoff. She now lives in Florida.

Grebenschikoff and Wahrenberg can thank the USC Shoah Foundation who noticed similarities in their stories. The nonprofit organization produces and preserves audiovisual recollections of Holocaust survivors.

Grebenschikoff settled in Shanghai as one of the 20,000 European Jews. Wahrenberg went to Santiago, Chile with her family in November 1939.

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The Shoah Foundation, the Florida Holocaust Museum, and the Interactive Jewish Museum of Chile took care of the virtual reunion via Zoom.

Grebenschikoff and Wahrenberg spoke in German, vowing to someday meet in person as they introduced their families to each other. A year later, the two women finally met.

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Eight decades later, the 2 friends finally got to hug each other, saying, “We just had this feeling, like we really belonged together.”

The original plan was for September, during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Pandemic restrictions meant they had to cancel their plans but by November, Wahrenberg booked a flight with her son and his wife.

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In Wahrenberg’s hotel room, the two elderly women finally met saying it was “as if we had seen each other yesterday” and that it was “so comfortable.”

“It was very special that two people, after 82 years, still love one another,” said Wahrenberg.

Both women spent those four days eating together, going shopping, and talking for hours and hours.

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They may both be 91 but it seemed like they were 9 all over again!

They even exchanged gifts with Wahrenberg giving Grebenschikoff a Barbie doll in a Chilean costume. She also gave Grebenschikoff a framed photograph of herself and even jewelry.

Grebenschikoff in turn gave Wahrenberg a small heart-shaped sculpture. A sculpture which she also has so they’d both share hearts.

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Grebenschikoff displayed the doll and photo in her bedroom before saying, “It’s something for her to remember me and for me to remember her.”

Her favorite memory of the reunion? “Being close to one another, and holding hands while we were walking. It felt right.”

Wahrenberg’s was just reminiscing before introducing their families over lunch. Wahrenberg’s son and Grebenschikoff’s daughter eventually became friends too!

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The two women now have phone call dates every Sunday. Modern technology allows these two inseparable friends to sit on their patios and enjoy morning coffee together.

Grebenschikoff and Wahrenberg have more plans to see each other, hopefully in Santiago.

Let’s hope they do! Watch this incredible reunion story below!

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