Betty Grebenschikoff assumed her childhood closest friend from Germany had dead for nearly eight decades.
Ana Mara Wahrenberg was the last person she saw when they were both nine years old, in 1939. Before their family were forced to flee the Holocaust during World War II, the girls shared a heartbreaking hug in a Berlin schoolyard.
Grebenschikoff and Wahrenberg assumed it was their last encounter, but on November 5, after 82 years apart, they met in person for the first time. Both women have reached the age of 91.
“It was quite emotional,” Wahrenberg said, echoing her sentiments. It felt as if we had never been apart.”
For years, the Holocaust survivors had searched databases and sought information from anybody who might know something about each other’s locations. They were unsuccessful since both had changed their names later in life.
“Her name has been changed to Ana Maria. Grebenschikoff, who now resides in Florida,” says she recalls her by her prior name, Ilse Kohn.
Thankfully, the USC Shoah Foundation, which develops and archives audiovisual recollections of Holocaust survivors, found parallels between Grebenschikoff’s and Wahrenberg’s testimony. Their long-awaited reunion came as a result of this revelation.
Grebenschikoff, one of Shanghai’s 20,000 European Jews, finally realized what had happened to her long-lost dearest friend. Wahrenberg and her family fled to Santiago, Chile, in November 1939, where she now resides.
Last November, they had a virtual reunion through Zoom, thanks to the Shoah Foundation, the Florida Holocaust Museum, and the Interactive Jewish Museum of Chile.
The two women conversed in German and presented their respective families. They also stated that they will meet in person. They followed through on their commitment a year later.
“We just got this sense, like we genuinely belonged together,” they stated as they hugged for the first time in nearly eight decades.
They had planned to meet in Florida for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in September. The epidemic, however, forced them to postpone their in-person reunion. Wahrenberg, on the other hand, felt more at ease flying by November and scheduled a ticket with her son and his wife.
Wahrenberg was welcomed at her hotel room by Grebenschikoff, who described it as “as if we had seen each other yesterday” and “so comfortable.”
“It was quite amazing that two individuals could still love one other after 82 years,” Wahrenberg added.
For four days, the best friends, both widowed, were inseparable. They went shopping together, ate meals together, and spoke for hours.
“We’re not the same ladies we were when we were nine,” Grebenschikoff said of their encounter. “But we continued giggling like young kids.” “It was a great pleasure for both of us.”
Their reunion would be incomplete without gifts, of course. Grebenschikoff received a Barbie doll dressed in a Chilean costume, as well as a framed image of herself and some jewelry, from Wahrenberg.
Grebenschikoff, on the other hand, gifted Wahrenberg a little heart-shaped sculpture, which she later acquired a duplicate of for herself so that they each have the identical piece.
Grebenschikoff explained, “It’s something for her to remember me and for me to remember her.” In her bedroom, she keeps the doll and photo.
“Being close to one another and holding hands when we were strolling,” Grebenschikoff said of his greatest memory from their time together. “It seemed natural.”
Over lunch, Wahrenberg’s favorite pastime was reminiscing about the good old days and introducing their families to one another. Wahrenberg’s son and Grebenschikoff’s daughter have become friends as well.
The two women have been having a phone date every Sunday for the past year, during which they sit on their respective patios and share their morning coffee.
In the future, Grebenschikoff intends to pay a visit to Wahrenberg in Santiago. She claimed their tale showed that “wonderful things can come out of a painful event” as she reflected on their journey.
To discover more about their experience, watch the pair’s interview with NBC News in the video below.