TROTWOOD — It wasn’t long ago that Cherie Rosenstein began sharing the story of her amazing childhood.
A Holocaust survivor whose parents were killed in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the Trotwood woman first began speaking to area school groups a few years ago, and eventually published a first-person account of her life in the Dayton Jewish Observer.
That heartbreaking autobiography, captured on the Web since 2007, led to a reunion this week between Rosenstein and Monique Valvot, the French woman whose passport allowed Rosenstein to come to America. The two had not seen one another or known each other’s whereabouts for 63 years.
“I was one of the homeless, tempest-tossed for whom Lady Liberty lighted the way through the golden door,” wrote Rosenstein, who remembers the flight to the United States in 1947 at the age of 5 on a “monstrous bird of steel.”
Valvot’s mother accompanied Rosenstein on that life-altering trip, delivering her to new parents in Cincinnati. Because Rosenstein had no official papers and the immigration office was closed, Valvot’s mother used her daughter’s name and passport to get Rosenstein into the U.S., bleaching the little girl’s hair blonde to match the document photo. Soon after, the families lost touch.
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Rosenstein said she has vague memories of life in a Jewish orphanage in Paris.
She remembers high walls and being told never to venture outside because “the evil Nazis hunted for Jewish children to bake in their ovens.” She also remembers the kind French family who took her in and gave her candy, friendship, and the name of Cherie.
“You shared your room with me,” she told Valvot, as the two tightly held hands at Dayton International Airport on Thursday morning. Neither remembers exactly how long Rosenstein lived with the family.
Both women said they had tried to find the other through the years. Rosenstein and her husband, Stu, searched for Monique when they were in Paris last year, but to no avail.
When Valvot googled her maiden name two years ago, Rosenstein’s story in the Dayton Jewish Observer suddenly appeared. She learned that her childhood friend was still alive and discovered her married name, but mistakenly confused Dayton with Daytona Beach, Fla., and searched in the wrong city.
It was only last week, while Valvot and her husband were vacationing in New York, that a chance meeting led to the heartwarming reunion and the answer to some of those questions.
A French rabbi living in Brooklyn overheard Valvot and a friend conversing in his native language and stopped to say “Bon Jour!” Eventually, Valvot’s husband. Jean-Pierre, shared the story about a little girl who had lived with the family after the war.
Rabbi Levy Goldberg and his good friend, Saadya Notik, immediately became determined to find Rosenstein.
“When I want to find somebody, I go online,” said Notik, who prides himself on Google research.
After reading the Dayton Jewish Observer article, the two posted queries on Facebook for Rosenstein and her son.
“We said we had read the article she’d written and had something to share with her,” he recalled. “I was worried that the mother might be skeptical so I sent a separate Facebook message to her son, asking her to call me.”
Rosenstein, who received a call Monday morning, was finally able to speak to her long-lost friend two days later when Goldberg arranged a “surprise.”
He invited Valvot to a cafe for lunch, then handed her the phone.
Within hours, the Rosensteins had invited the French couple to Dayton. Welcoming their long-lost family at the airport were the Rosensteins, their children and a grandson. There are already plans for the Rosensteins to pay a return visit to Paris.
The visit has answered many questions both women have had through the years. Rosenstein, who always believed her rescuers were Catholic, was surprised to learn that they too come from a Jewish heritage.
Their Thursday reunion took place on Stu Rosenstein’s birthday and on the holiday of Sukkot, a Jewish festival of thanksgiving.
All agree there are many reasons to give thanks.
Levy Goldberg said he feels “humbled” by the role he has played in the heartwarming reunion.
“I myself lost most of my family in the Holocaust,” said the 24-year-old, whose grandfather survived by jumping off a train on its way to a concentration camp. “I don’t have the words to express how I feel about all this. It’s putting back the pieces.”
To read Cherie Rosenstein’s story, “Child of the Holocaust” in the Dayton Jewish Observer: http://www.jewishdayton.org/page.aspx?id=141073 .