For years Lisa Feiner assumed that her family was small since most had perished in the Holocaust. Yet after obtaining some DNA test results and a photo from 1924, she made an incredible discovery.
When Feiner’s mother passed away in 2011, she left a photo and a piece of hotel stationary which read “Gottfried 1924,” with a list of names. The remnant sparked Feiner’s curiosity to look for any remaining relatives.
Feiner’s mother was one of 10 siblings, only five of which survived the Holocaust. She was placed in an orphanage during the war in Belgium and relocated to the United States as a refugee in 1947. She had limited knowledge of her siblings who immigrated to America, Mexico and Israel. Until Feiner began her investigation 80 years later.
In the summer of 2017, Feiner and her sister Meg Thompson took Ancestry DNA and 23andMe to trace their family’s history. Five weeks later she discovered she had a cousin in California named Jennifer Thaw. She reached out to Thaw, who had performed a 23andMe test two years earlier. The two began to question how they were related and realized they also had some older cousins.
Little by little, Feiner and Thaw began to locate more relatives, and after flying to New York, they met their cousin Bob, an immigration lawyer, in addition to their cousin Mauricio, who was the child of an only child from Mexico City.
In mid-November Feiner began organizing the first Gottfried family reunion at the Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta. Relatives from New York, Mexico and California all flew in for the occasion and wore nametags that depicted their name and which of the 10 siblings they descended from. A family portrait was also taken similar to the Gottfried photo from 1924.
While visiting Atlanta, Feiner’s relatives also had the opportunity to receive a personal tour of The Temple by Rabbi Peter Berg.
“The meeting was magical,” Feiner’s daughter, Ariana, wrote on her Facebook page. “It felt like a combination of meeting new people and reuniting with loved ones that you’ve known forever. We talked about our lives, shared pictures of our history, ate great food, took a tour of Atlanta, laughed a lot, and cried a little. We are all so excited for the future our family will have together.”
Since its initial gathering, Feiner said her family has grown from 10 to about 45 or 60 people. “Growing up we had a small family and we always used to say, ‘We are small but close,’ but now the narrative has changed,” Ariana said in a phone interview.
Feiner also has made some additional discoveries since her investigation first began. For example, she learned that each of her cousins has a photo of the 10 siblings hanging in their home and has been receiving messages from distant relatives in Israel after Ariana posted photos of their reunion on Facebook.
Feiner has remained in contact with her extended family since the reunion and looks forward to future gatherings. She said, “It feels like we have known each other all along.”
In a Facebook post Arianna said: “The reunion was amazing because none of us knew that the others’ grandparents had made it over from Europe, let alone survived; we had all been living our lives without knowing that the others were there all along.”