Reconnecting Through Yad Vashem: The Turners And The Kolbs

My father, Morris Turner, was born in Nadworna, Poland (now part of Ukraine), but grew up in Vienna. After the Anschluss, he had an opportunity to escape to England but he would not leave without his mother. He was arrested and detained by the Gestapo, but was not deported because he showed them this visa he had to emigrate to England. The Gestapo released him and after a tense waiting period a visa arrived for his mother and himself to go the United States. They arrived in New York in August of 1939 one week before Hitler’s forces invaded Poland and WWII broke out. My father’s entire immediate family was now out of Austria, with the exception of his oldest sister Helene. Hellie, as she was called, was married to Jacob (Kubie) Kolb a decorated, wounded WWI veteran. My father and his family begged them to leave but Kubie was sure that the Nazis would never bother his family due to his distinguished service. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know how wrong a judgment that turned out to be.

Hellie (upper right) coming to say goodbye to her Mother and Brother (my Father), Vienna  August,1939
Hellie Saying Goodbye To Her Mother And Morris In Vienna, August,1939

My father never knew what happened to his sister and her family. He tried to gather information through the Red Cross after the war but all they were able to inform him was that the family was deported and did not survive. As far as he knew, there were no Kolbs that survived the war. After my father passed, we learned from Yad Vashem that Hellie, Kubie and their 13 year old son Erich, were deported from Vienna on June 5th, 1942 on Transport 25. From the Yad Vashem archives:

The train was destined to arrive at Izbica on June 8th; some researchers believe that it was diverted to the extermination camp at Sobibor, where the deportees were murdered.
Four transports left Vienna between March and June of 1942 and it is presumed that Izbica was the destination. Not one of the deportees on this transport survived.

Several years ago I submitted a testimony for my Aunt, and her family to Yad Vashem.

Shortly after Yad Vashem digitized their database of testimonies I decided to search for my testimony for my Aunt. When the search results came back I was shocked. There was another testimony submitted by someone else, in Hebrew, for my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin. Who could this be? Were they still alive? I just had to find out.

Testimony of Zeev Kolb
Testimony of Zeev Kolb

I contacted Yad Vashem and told them of my interest in contacting the submitter of this testimony. They said they are not in the business of reconnecting people but they sent me some links to pursue it. I can read some Hebrew, and my wife was born in Israel but searching Hebrew directories with an American keyboard was beyond our capabilities. We were able to figure out that the testimony was submitted by a Zeev Kolb, but his handwriting of where he lived was very difficult for us to decipher. We saw that it was something “Haim” but that was the extent of what we were able to read.

That weekend we were in the home of an Israeli friend. We were sitting in her living room and she had a laptop with a Hebrew keyboard on her coffee table. I asked her for help. I brought up the testimony and she thought that the town in question was Kiryat Haim, a suburb of Haifa. I showed her the email with the links from Yad Vashem and she went to one of them (Bezeq) to look up “Kolbs” in Kiryat Haim and provided us with three phone numbers.

Being late at night I couldn’t call then, but I was so excited at my lead that I could barely sleep. I got out of bed early because I wanted my wife to make the phone calls (since she speaks Hebrew) before I left for work. The first number she called had no answer and she left a voicemail. At the second number she called a young man answered the phone and she asked him if by chance his grandfather’s name was Zeev. He said his grandfather died several years ago and they used to call him Willy but yes his name was Zeev. She asked if he was from Austria and he said yes!

Success! The young man spoke English so I excitedly  took the phone and explained who I was. He told me his father, whose English is not as good as his, was not home and we exchanged contact information to speak later. When his father arrived home he sent me this email:

Hello Steven, I have no words and really don’t know how to start.

I’m so happy to find new/old family.

My father Wilhelmina (Zeev) told me about his brother Kubi that he served as an Austrian soldier in the First World War and was wounded and lost his leg and even still he and his family were all killed by the Nazis.

There are also other family members alive in Austria and in the US.

I’ll phone you in about 2 hours.

So excited my wife Dalia and me Ronny Kolb.

Of course I was thrilled and we spoke on the phone and exchanged our personal histories. He told me much about his father, who my father knew very well. How sad it is that these two refugees from Hitler were alive for so many years after fleeing, yet neither one of them knew the other survived or where they lived.

Zeev Kolb
Zeev Kolb

Although we are not blood relatives, my family and I feel very close to the Kolb family. The next time we go to Israel we plan on getting together. We regularly exchange emails, phone calls, and holiday greetings. Ron has put me in touch with his cousin Fred in Massachusetts.

I know that Yad Vashem says that they are not in the business of reconnections. I understand that as they are busy enough with their normal work but as the biological processes take over and with so little time left till there are no more Shoah survivors alive, somebody has to undertake this important mission of reconnecting families.


About the Author
Dr. Steven S.Turner is a practicing dentist in Howard Beach, NY. He was educated in the NYC public schools, Queens College, and the NYU College of Dentistry. Steven is on the board of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island and has been the President of Gesher Galicia since July 2019. He spent a summer studying at the Hebrew University Mt. Scopus campus in 1970.
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