Woman Born in WWII Thought Her Mother Had Died — 80 Years Later, She Comes Face-To-Face With the Truth
Separated by war, they were finally able to find peace, eight decades later.
The year was 1942. As World War II raged, Gerda Cole, an 18-year-old Jewish refugee who had fled to England to escape the Nazis in Austria, gave birth to a daughter.
She had just enough time to name her “Sonya” before giving her up for adoption.
In a marriage that was falling apart, the teen had no money, no job, and was still adjusting to life in a foreign country. She wanted her child to have a chance at a better life.
“I had very limited personal education, and this, combined with wartime, left me no recourse but to have Sonya adopted under the advice of the refuge committee,” Gerda told the CBC. “The condition was not to have any further connection with the child.”
It was a condition she honored for 80 years.
However, on Gerda’s 98th birthday, she finally broke the condition, coming face to face in an emotional reunion with the daughter she had given up so many years ago. A daughter who thought she had long been dead.
The Journey That Brought Them Here
Gerda was 15 years old when her Austrian parents put her on a Kindertransport bound for England in a desperate attempt to keep her alive. Her mother would survive the war. Her father would not.
In 1965, Gerda moved to Canada with her third husband. She earned three university degrees and later worked as an accountant and part-time at Burger King to fund her travels, including to various archaeological sites in Israel and Cyprus.
Despite trying to get pregnant over the years, she never had another child.
Meanwhile, Sonya Grist grew up in England with her German adoptive parents. She married, had three children, and worked as a tour guide.
The two women lived completely separate lives until fate stepped in. And in this case, fate had a name — Stephen Grist, Sonya’s son.
Stephen was looking to leave the U.K. and needed to verify his lineage in order to obtain Austrian citizenship. Armed with his biological grandparents’ names, which were written on Sonya’s birth certificate, he started piecing together his family history.
That’s when he found her.
After Eight Decades Apart, a Mother and Daughter Reunite
Thanks to the power of Facebook, Stephen was able to track down Gerda’s stepson from her third marriage. He messaged him asking for a copy of his grandmother’s death certificate. There wasn’t one.
“It had never occurred to us that my grandmother would still be alive,” Stephen told the Washington Post.
Sonya was shocked. Over the years she had tried unsuccessfully to find her birth mother. And now, after 80 years, she finally had.
“My first reaction was, I want to go and see her. I was thrilled,” Sonya said.
Gerda, who thought about contacting Sonya for years but worried if her daughter would even want to be found, described the discovery as a “miracle.”
“When I heard, I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It means so much to be able to live to see this moment.”
The “moment” finally happened on May 7. On Gerda’s 98th birthday.
They Were Separated by War and Finally Found Peace
Sonya and Stephen flew from the U.K. to Scarborough, Canada to meet Gerda where she now resides in a long-term care home. The reunion was an emotional one, filled with love, celebration, and hugs they’d been waiting a lifetime to give.
As soon as the mother and daughter duo saw each other, they felt an “immediate bond.” They discovered that they had a lot in common, including their love of travel, music, and learning new languages.
Like mother, like daughter.
“I made so many mistakes, and yet she went looking for me and she found me. It was incredible,” said Gerda. The two spent the weekend together making up for lost time and hope to see each other again soon.
Despite living a lifetime apart, Gerda and Sonya are a testament to the enduring bond between biological family members, particularly the bond that exists between a parent and child.
A bond that may bend but that can never be truly broken.
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