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a father's past revealed, a bond rekindled

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The Facebook message from a stranger went unnoticed by Regina Zorman for nearly three months. But the contents, once read, would prove life-changing for the Montreal daughter of a Holocaust survivor.

“Hello. I contact you because I think you’re the daughter of Max Zorman,” began the note received at 12:53 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2015. “If so, I am the granddaughter of the family that has welcomed your father in France.”

Regina began to tremble when she finally saw the short missive on April 29, 2015.

Yes, she was the daughter of Max Zorman, who had passed away 12 years earlier.

Yes, her father had been in France during the Second World War. He’d last seen his mother there before she had been sent to her death at Auschwitz. He’d been separated from his younger brother there.

Yes, he’d been in hiding, though she had no idea where or with whom.

But a family? Who had welcomed him? And who remembered him all these years later?

The next line was perhaps most astounding of all: “I have letters that he wrote in 1944 and 1960 to my family. My grandmother told me a lot about him and his family.”

Regina wrote back immediately. And thus began an odyssey of discovery for the 51-year-old Dorval resident that has helped her to piece together the shards of her family’s tragic history, uncover secrets her father took to his grave and rekindle a bond forged during one of history’s darkest moments.

Regina Zorman sifts through photos along with letters her father wrote to the family that sheltered him, his brother and mother in rural France in 1941-42.

The history of the Holocaust is well documented. There have been inquiries and war crimes trials, government reports and historical analyses. There are museums and memorials devoted to the Nazi state-sponsored genocide of 6 million Jews. And on Jan. 27, the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Yet three-quarters of a century later, we are still learning new stories of cruelty, escape, bravery and heroism that have been vaulted away in the memories of those who lived through them.

Like the children of many Holocaust survivors, who began new lives in cities like Montreal after escaping the horrors of war, Regina knew little about her father’s misery.

She knew he was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1927, though his parents were from Poland. Her uncle Herman was born less than two years later, in Antwerp, Belgium. She doesn’t know why they were on the move so much.

Max was five when he and Herman lost their father in 1932. Life was tough even before the persecution of Jews started, with their widowed mother raising two boys alone. The family was living in Antwerp when the war broke out and somehow ended up in France.

Regina knew her father last saw his mother, Brendla Fogelgarn, in France before she was deported to Auschwitz. She knew he’d been on the run, hidden on a farm, and spent time at the Château de Montintin, a safe house for orphaned Jewish children run by an underground network. She knew he was separated from Herman, who escaped to Switzerland, and that both ended up in Israel after the war.

Both brothers eventually resettled in Montreal, Max in 1958 and Herman a few years later. They reunited with uncles and aunts on their mother’s side, relatives they had never met as children, but who had also come to Montreal after losing children, siblings, parents and spouses during the Holocaust.

These survivors, each of whom bore their own scars, formed a tight-knit circle. Regina and her brother grew up with this silent suffering as the unspoken backdrop of their childhood.

Regina remembers her father showing them documentaries and films about the Nazis and death camps. But he didn’t say much about his own misfortune, and his children thought better of asking.

So the message that landed out of the blue, a dozen years after her father’s death and over 70 years after this terrible chapter of history, already provided more details than Regina had ever previously been told. But it was only the beginning.

An undated photo of Max, left, and Herman Zorman prior to the Holocaust.

The sender of the unexpected and revealing message was Christine Tisseyre. She is the granddaughter........

© Montreal Gazette