A Jewish woman based in Canada received the most beautiful gift any mother could wish for on her 98th birthday: reuniting with her only child who she gave up for adoption 80 years ago.
CTV News reported that Sonya Girst flew to the Revera Kennedy Lodge Long Term Care Home in Scarborough, Toronto from England on May 7 to finally see her mother, Gerda Cole, for the first time in her life. The meeting was particularly set to coincide with Cole's birthday celebration. Girst, now 80 years old, embraced her mother as soon as she saw her, while repeatedly exclaiming how happy she is in seeing the woman who gave her life.
"Eighty years! Eighty years!" Cole remarked simultaneously in disbelief as she sat in the wheelchair after embracing her long-lost daughter tightly.
"Don't emphasize my age so," Girst kiddingly responded, which brought everyone into laughter.
A Jewish Mother Forced To Give Up Her Daughter
According to the media outlet, Cole gave up her newborn daughter for adoption in 1942 being a new refugee in England. Cole escaped Vienna, Austria in 1939 at the age of 15 during the height of the Second World War when Germans were persecuting Jews. The Christian Post said Cole was placed by her parents on a children's transport bound for England where she found safety and, three years later, gave birth to Sonya.
England's refugee committee, as per CBC News, advised Cole to opt to have Sonya for adoption because of her financial situation. She was also advised to refrain from communicating with the child once she has been adopted. Cole did as advised before she migrated to Canada after the war, leaving her past behind her.
Cole has been quietly living in the nursing home after traveling the world for earning three university degrees and visiting archeological sites in Cyprus and Israel. But things changed when the pandemic came.
The Search For A Jewish Mother
Sonya and her son, Stephen, were able to surprisingly track Cole during the pandemic in the process of applying for an Austrian passport. The Toronto Sun said Sonya was unaware of many details regarding her adoption but Stephen was able to help her trace her genealogy.
Speaking before members of the press, Stephen explained that he knew his mother was adopted but they didn't know anything about her birth parents. Stephen disclosed that Brexit and this knowledge of his mother created in him the desire to see the possibility of getting an Austrian passport. The pandemic gave him enough time to investigate through various websites where he was able to acquire information on Cole.
Stephen said the Austrian government allowed anybody to access records of their ancestry, including those who left Austria in the early 1930s. This was particularly given by the Austrian government to those who wish to apply for an Austrian passport. He admitted expecting to find Cole's death records so he could put them in his application.
In the end, he discovered Cole's stepson, Leonard, and got to reach out to him through Facebook. Stephen told Leonard that he was missing one last piece of information for his Austrian passport--Cole's death certificate--and wondered if he could help him with it. Leonard told him that he won't be able to find Cole's death certificate because she's still alive and living in a nursing home in Canada.
"And that was just such a shock to the system! Changed everything about how we were thinking about that process! So it's so lovely to be able to be here and meet Gerda," Stephen said.
Sonya said it was last year when they learned her mother was alive. When Stephen told her about it, Sonya immediately raised that she would like to go on a plane to Canada and hug her mother. Sonya then emailed her mother, whose first response to her--"you have to understand this computer doesn't like me"-- confirmed she was indeed her mother. She disclosed she had a thousand questions she wanted to ask her mother but does not want to bombard her with them at the moment.
On the other hand, Cole expressed her own disbelief and gratitude for being reunited with her daughter.
"When I heard, I just couldn't believe it. This must be...a miracle. It means so much to be able to live to see this moment," Cole said.
During the birthday celebration, Cole had a little cake cutting ceremony and requested a steel drum, which turned into a mini dance party.