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The women had spent decades searching for each other, but thought their childhood best friend had been killed in the war

By Rachel DeSantis
March 09, 2021 04:25 PM
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Betty Grebenschikoff and Ana Maria Wahrenberg reunion
Betty Grebenschikoff (L) and Ana María Wahrenberg (R)
| Credit: Rachael Cerrotti

A pair of best friends separated by the Holocaust are making up for lost time after they were finally reunited more than 80 years after they said their goodbyes while fleeing Nazi Germany.

Betty Grebenschikoff and Ana María Wahrenberg, both 91, were inseparable growing up in Berlin in the 1930s, but both assumed that the other had died in the war after they went their separate ways, according to a release from the USC Shoah Foundation.

"For 82 years, I thought my best friend in Germany was dead," Grebenschikoff told the Washington Post. "I'd been looking for her for all those years, and I never found her."

As it turns out, both women and their nuclear families survived — but both had changed their names, making it near impossible for the other to track them down.

The reunion decades in the making finally happened in November over Zoom, after Ita Gordon, a cataloguer and indexer for the USC Shoah Foundation, stumbled upon their stories, and connected the missing links.

Betty Grebenschikoff and Ana Maria Wahrenberg reunion
Credit: Rachael Cerrotti

"It was such a miracle," Grebenschikoff told the Post. "It was like no time had passed. Of course, 82 years makes a difference, but more or less, we just picked up where we left off."

Wahrenberg and her family fled Germany for South America in 1939, and in November, she was featured in a webinar that Gordon attended, according to the release.

As she listened, Gordon took note of Wahrenberg's recollections, and later went to see if Wahrenberg had recorded a testimony of her experience in the Visual History Archive.

She hadn't — but knowing she was from Germany, Gordon tried several different variations of her name, and eventually, a search for Annemarie Wahrenberg led her to a 1997 testimony given by Grebenschikoff, whose details matched many that Wahrenberg had given.

Gordon heard Grebenschikoff speak of her long-lost friend, and how they'd planned to write to each other, but never did, as Grebenschikoff had moved to China.

"She probably died in the war, but I'm not sure," Grebenschikoff said in the testimony.

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After a bit more digging, Gordon discovered that like Wahrenberg, Grebenschikoff had changed her name, and was now living in Florida. After reaching out to museums that had worked with each of the women, she got in contact with their families, and, confirming their friendship, made plans for them to reunite over Zoom just before Thanksgiving.

"I didn't cry or anything, [but] what I did was stay very quiet and say to myself, 'You may have to act, but right now, feel it.' Because there might be a chance that two dear friends might be together [again]," Gordon said in the release.

When they finally were able to speak on the video call, the friends talked for nearly two hours, and shared a champagne toast to life as they introduced their families.

"This is a total gift in her life," Grebenschikoff's daughter Jennifer told the Post. "All of us were just stunned to watch the two women connect so quickly and start laughing like they were still 9 years old."

The women first met as 6-year-olds, and spent all their time together attending school, synagogue and ballet lessons, according to the Post.

But after Wahrenberg's father was arrested on Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, each of their families made plans to leave Germany — Wahrenberg ended up in Chile, and Grebenschikoff in Shanghai.

They last saw each other in the spring of 1939, where they shared one final hug in a schoolyard.

"We did not want to separate. We loved each other very much," Wahrenberg told the Post.

Though both women's nuclear families survived the war, most of their extended families were killed by Nazis, according to the Post. Grebenschikoff and her husband eventually settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the early 1950s, and she went on to have five children, while Wahrenberg stayed in Santiago and had two children.

Now that they've been reunited, the women stay in touch with weekly Sunday phone calls, and emails and calls throughout the week, according to the Post.

Wahrenberg even has plans to fly to Miami in September so that she and Grebenschikoff can spend Rosh Hashanah together.

"Once in a blue moon, there is a silver lining. It's so rare to find that in Holocaust literature," Grebenschikoff told the Post. "I just want to hug her again. It would be a culmination of a lifelong journey."