Human Interest Jewish Woman Reunites with Daughter, Whom She Placed for Adoption amid WWII, at Her 98th Birthday Party Gerda Cole was just 18 years old when she allowed a German couple living in England to adopt her newborn daughter Sonya Grist in 1942, according to CBC and The Washington Post By Abigail Adams Abigail Adams Instagram Twitter Digital News Writer, PEOPLE People Editorial Guidelines Published on May 25, 2022 12:26 PM Share Tweet Pin Email A Jewish woman living in Canada recently celebrated her 98th birthday by meeting her daughter for the first time since placing her for adoption during World War II. Gerda Cole was just 18 years old when a German couple living in England adopted her newborn daughter, Sonya Grist, in 1942, according to CBC and The Washington Post. The two women lived separate lives for nearly 80 years — until Sonya's son, Stephen Grist, suddenly realized his biological grandmother Gerda was still alive while assessing his family lineage last year. Gerda, who now resides at Revera Kennedy Lodge Long Term Care Home in the Scarborough district of Toronto, described the discovery as "a miracle." "When I heard, I just couldn't believe it," she told CBC, adding, "It means so much to be able to live to see this moment." Sisters Ask Their Stepmom to Adopt Them in Emotional Surprise – See the Touching Video After eight decades, Gerda finally got to meet her daughter on Saturday, May 7 at a joint birthday and reunion celebration hosted by her retirement home. Sonya, who flew in from the U.K. to attend the event, said she was "shaking" while waiting to meet her biological mom, CBC reported. "Just over a year ago I didn't know that my mother was still alive," Sonya said, adding that she "knew very little" about her mother beforehand. "I still don't know much and there's a thousand questions I've got to ask her," she added, "but I don't want to bombard her." Gerda, an only child, had escaped the Nazis in Austria shortly before making her decision to place Sonya for adoption, according to the Post. She became pregnant after moving to England as a refugee, but found herself in an unhappy marriage and unable to afford caring for the child. Single Woman Finds 'Beauty and Purpose' After Adopting Orphan Born Without Arms and Legs Due to Rare Condition Describing her decision to allow the German couple to adopt her daughter, Gerda said, "I felt it was only fair to her." "I had very limited personal education, and this, combined with wartime, left me no recourse but to have my daughter Sonya adopted under the advice of the refugee committee," Gerda explained in a written statement she read at the event, per CBC. "The condition was not to have any further connection with the child." Gerda said the decision "was hard," noting that she "would have tried" to raise Sonya "if I had been in a better position." Stephen told The Toronto Star that he first began digging into his family history after the Austrian government announced it would allow those who could prove that their ancestors left the region in the 1930s to gain citizenship. Aware that his maternal biological grandparents were Austrian, Stephen went looking for answers — and was surprised to find his biological grandmother still alive. Rosmarie Trapp of the Musical Family Who Inspired The Sound of Music Dead at 93 But Stephen didn't inform his mother right away, according to CBC. Instead, he waited two weeks before breaking the big news. "I just thought, oh my God, that's just blown my mind," Grist said. "The idea that her mother was still alive and she would have the opportunity to meet her was so exciting, it just threw us all for a loop." Once he shared the news with her, however, Sonya was eager to meet the mother she knew so little about. "When I told my mother that [Gerda] was still alive, she just said, 'I want to get on an airplane to Canada right now and give her a big hug,' " Stephen told CBC. World's Oldest Living Man Is Nearly 113, Has 41 Grandchildren and Enjoys a Popular Drink 'Every Day' Though she spent eight decades apart from her mother, Sonya revealed that she and her mother still have something in common — their love for music. "I'll let you into a secret — for a while, I was a member of a steel band," Sonya said at the May 7 party. She then quipped, "I wasn't terribly good." Gerda, who wore a blue birthday ribbon and tiara for the special occasion, thanked both Stephen and Sonya "for this opportunity" to meet them for the first time. "It means so much to me to live to see this moment," she said, per the Star.