Twin Strangers

‘Unfortunately, there is no mistake,’ she said, closing the file.”

Stan stood in front of the clerk despondent.  “Can you give me a little information about him, anyway? What is his name? Where does he live?” he asked begging.

“Listen I told you probably more than I should.  You have an identical twin brother who is not interested in knowing anything about you.  We contacted him and he made it clear.” She said as she put away the file into the cabinet behind her desk. As she seemed to take a long time to find the correct space for the physical file, Stan looked down at the desk before him. He saw she had written down a name on the sheet of paper before her.

“Alfred Stohr”

He looked up at the secretary who seemed to slightly wink. Stan Koehler tipped his head and silently thanked her and left the office.

He had a name. And like him a German name. Yet it did not sound Jewish like his Koehler last name.   Who was his brother? For that matter who was he? What did he know about his own past?

Stanley was brought up with a bare knowledge but proud Jewish faith. He and his father first had lived in Italy. After the war they immigrated to Chicago becoming American citizens. He heard from his father that they had barely escaped Germany in June of 1939 securing a visa. Even though there were over 300,000 who received applicants, most of those who requested were refused; sealing their death warrant. His father never spoke about his real mother or brother from the past. Before he died from the ‘great sickness,’ his father told Stanley about his identical twin brother.  But that was all he mentioned, it was possible he didn’t know more. His adopted mother didn’t seem to know any other details.  Stanley knew that his father had never felt a total happiness. His life had seemed plagued with missing parts. Stanley felt it was his job to fill in the empty pockets.

Stanley Koehler had a wife, kids, even grandchildren but there had been this void of awareness that he felt it was time to find out. It was the middle of the1980’s; (before one could do a search on line). But Stanley searched though all the immigrant information that Ellis Island would release – he found his father and his own names on record – but no one else. Nothing like Alfred Stohr or his mother.

Why bother digging up past history when no one wanted to acknowledge him? But he needed to know.  There was a brother out there – an identical brother. Who was he? How did he survive the war? Maybe his brother wasn’t Jewish? If not, who was Stanley then?

Then he found the letters. Stashed away, in the attic, bundled up inside a cedar box under many blankets and old suits of his father were the letters. They were written in German with a beautiful penmanship but illegible to Stanley.  He brought it to a professor who knew German.

“Dear (Maikol), Aug 1940

I hope Stan is doing well, I miss him. Alfred is growing and though he at times has quite a temper, he is turning into a loving child. My parents have been good to me taking us in. I know it would make you cringe, but Alfred has learned to greet his teachers in school with a proper “Heil Hitler”.  It is important to shield him. My mother watches him after school so I can work.  She hates you and hates her grandchild has Jewish blood, but loves him as a grandmother should. I made Alfred swear never to mention you.  We go by my parent’s name now; Stohr for further security.  Please send more information about Stanley.

Leslie”

 

“Dear Maikol, March 1942

I’m glad you have left. And I fear anyone should know my connection to you. Even being a faithful Catholic is terrify in this world. I won’t take a chance to write anymore to you after this letter.  Alfred has joined the Hitler Youth movement. It seems to be a good idea to guard him more. Besides, all his friends have joined. The other day someone said the word ‘Juden’ in front of Alfred.  He asked me what that meant.  I made him swear never to repeat the word again.  It is a terrifying world we live in. Don’t write.

Leslie”

“Dear Mikol, Feb 1944

I’m at my wits end.  I made sure Alfred should not be Jewish, not know from Jews and yet they found out about you. They have taken him away with other Jewish children. My brother is a high ranking Nazi is trying to convince them of their innocence.  My mother said the first moment she gets her hands on Alfred she is going to have him baptized.

Leslie”

Mikol, March 1944

I just hear word; Max had him released!

Leslie”

“Dear Mikol, Aug 1947

The war Thank G-d is over. We have no money. Can you help support your child?

I’m sorry to inform you; I looked into your family members.  They were all murdered in Dachau. You have one aunt left I believe your father’s sister.  I understand she is on her way to Palestine.

Leslie”

“Dear Mikol, Jan 1948

It seems it won’t be long. There will be another war in Palestine. You Jews don’t stop suffering.

Alfred has been having dreams about Stanley even though I do not talk to him about his brother. I don’t think it is good for them to know about each other – it will only hurt them in the long run.

Good luck on your new marriage. Please let me know how Stanley is doing.

Thank you for your support.

Leslie”

Leslie, his mother was a Catholic. Stanley realized even though his father was Jewish; according to Jewish law he was not Jewish. And, his identical brother was Nazi, yet was almost killed for being a Jew! No wonder his brother didn’t want to meet him.

There wasn’t any more letters. Why did she stop writing? Was she afraid they would meet again? Stanley remembered his own dreams of having another a brother living somewhere else.   He had always sensed another half. Were they connected in an outer-body sense?

Reminded of his Aunt Johana who lived in Israel, he wondered if his mother had known about her, maybe Johana can help him find Alfred?

It was time to visit Israel any case.  He never had been and even though now he realized he was not Jewish; he felt connected and wanted to see family from before. He made plans.  Aunt Johana lived on a kibbutz; one of the first in Israel on the beautiful Sea of Galilee.  When he arrived he realized she was approaching her eighth decade and had found solace in the comfort of this beautiful home surrounded by children, grandchildren.  Johana, which was what she was still referred to by the other German survivors and founders of the oasis, the younger generations called her by her Hebrew name Hana with the ‘H’ pronounced with a guttural sound.

Aunt Johana remembered his mother and of course the happy occasion of their birth – twins!

“She was a quite a beauty.  No wonder your father married her.  But their pasts were too different.  How either one of them could say goodbye to you their children – I don’t know how they did it.  Yet so many people had their lives torn.  Your parents had it easy.  And it was good you’re father left. I am the only survivor. May G-d avenge their blood.”

“Do you know anything about my brother, Alfred?” Stanley probed.

“No, nothing!” Yohana practically barked; she did not seem to want to talk about it.

After Stanley returned to Chicago the home of his family he decided to put the whole quest far from his mind.  It was absorbing and painful.  Yet only two weeks later he received the wanted letters of his dreams in German.

“Dear Stanley,

I understand you are looking for me.  I have been afraid to meet you, but know it is inevitable.  Perhaps we should meet in Nice on the Rivera – a place that is not yours or mine.

Your twin brother,

Al”

Stanley never found out why Alfred finally made that initial contact after it seem for so long he had been hiding. For whatever reason all those years they had been separated, they had the date set to meet.

They were to meet at the train station. As Stanley got off his coach he had no trouble recognizing his brother, Alfred who was waiting at the lounge.  Not only did both brothers look like each other, they were both dressed similarly in beige suits and similar cuts.  Even their glasses were the same color and shape.

Stanley felt invaded.  Who was this man wearing his face, his clothes?  The first thing that Alfred did was to tear off the tags on Stanley’s suitcase that still bared an Israeli stamp.

“You have to be careful.” Alfred explained. It wasn’t a good beginning.

They spent a week together. It was truly bitter with a little sweetness thrown in.  They not only realized how similar they were in appearance and taste, they also realized they were both were very competitive in nature – and now they met their equal match. They discovered they both like to read books in reverse so there would be no surprises. They had similar loud scary sneezes and habit of toying with rubber bands and paper clips when nervous. They both had dominant personalities which was not an easy thing to share.

Yet they were also different. Worlds apart, but similar in personality more than any other person they had previously met. Their similarities intrigued both of them (and those around them) and also annoyed each other greatly.

They met every few years; including their families.  The children and grandchildren all thought it was great fun.  As Alfred’s end seem in sight, having being sick, Stanley came to visit.  Alfred told him to look in the drawer near his bed.  Inside were the Israeli tags that Alfred had torn from Stanley’s bag when they first had met. He had held onto them in spite of his fear of danger.

They may have been separated in birth, in the war and all else that followed, but they did finally reconnect, before it was too late. They were twin strangers.

 

(This fictional story is based on a true accounting of twins separated at birth (below) and nothing to do with the picture above.)

Separated sixth months after birth in 1933, Jack Yufe (left) was raised as a Jew in his native Trinidad while his identical twin, Oskar Stohr (right), grew up in Nazi Germany, where he joined the Hitler Youth movement.

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