Daughter of Holocaust survivor finds long-lost brother with help of DNA testing

Daughter of Holocaust survivor finds long-lost brother with help of DNA testing
Daughter of Holocaust survivor finds long-lost brother with help of DNA testing

When the 77-year-old daughter of a Holocaust survivor who spent much of her life searching for her biological parents, particularly her elusive father, received a call from the research team at a genealogy site, she was not expecting to learn that she had a brother.

Toronto resident Elana Milman was born in a displaced persons camp in Bergen-Belsen, Germany in 1947. She was adopted as a baby into a loving family and raised on a Kibbutz in Israel.

Milman spent her early childhood unaware that she arrived in British mandate Palestine by boat in 1948, prior to the Israeli Declaration of Independence, until another child in the community claimed some of their peers had been adopted from overseas.

Upon learning this, a six-year-old Milman confronted her parents.

“I knew that there was something very big, bigger than me that I needed to find out,” Milman told Now Toronto in an interview.

She recalls the moment her mother and father told her she was not their biological child.

“Yes, we didn’t give birth to you but we are your parents,” they told Milman.

(Elana with her adoptive parents. Courtesy: Elana Milman)


However, she did not learn who her biological mother was until she was pregnant with her third child at the age of 32.

Until then, Milman’s adoptive parents told her, “when you grow up, you will know,” to which she would respond, “I’m already grown up.”

Her adoptive mother eventually informed Milman of her German heritage and divulged the name of her biological mother.

But that was all the information Milman received, so she began to search.

“We found a person who helped us to find a copy of my birth certificate…I found some relatives in Israel, my mother was a cousin of theirs, and they said that she lived in Montreal,” Milman explained.

Milman wrote to her biological mother and spoke with her on the phone before they met in person.

Their first encounter happened during an emotional meeting with Milman’s adoptive parents on the Kibbutz, where she was raised and where she lived until the age of 42.

“It was a very moving speech from her to my adoptive parents, she was so grateful that they raised me up as I am,” Milman said.

But Milman said her biological mother was reluctant to tell her her story, and would often breadcrumb information that was conflicting and peppered with half-truths.

“I had a feeling that she is the one to pull the curtain as far as she wants, and sometimes she’s going to tell me what I want to hear, what I need to hear, but not exactly the truth,” Milman said.

“She never told me who my father was. She never told me that she gave me up for adoption,” Milman continued.

Milman eventually moved to Montreal, then back to Israel after her biological mother died, before deciding to settle in Toronto where she, her husband, children and grandchildren live today.

Elana, third from the right, with family. (Courtesy: Elana Milman)


In recent years, still none-the-wiser about her father, Milman was encouraged by her grandchildren to write a book based on her life.

Entitled “The Secrets My Mother Kept” in English and “When you Grow Up you Will Know” in Hebrew, the book is a dramatized novelisation of Milman’s undulating quest of self-discovery.

But, it wasn’t until she finished writing that Milman felt ready to take a DNA test in the hopes of finding her biological father, unfortunately the results revealed nothing about him.

However, soon after Milman’s book was published in Hebrew, a researcher at MyHeritage stumbled upon an article about it, read the book, got in touch with Milman, and offered to have their team help her identify her dad.

After six months of research, MyHeritage found a DNA match which led Elana to her half-brother, Juliusz, a veterinarian from Poland.

Shortly after discovering her brother, Elana travelled to Poland to meet him.

Elana meets her half-brother Juliusz for the first time at an airport in Poland. (Courtesy: Elana Milman)

Juliusz told Milman that their father was an accomplished violinist and singer, and as it turns out, so is Milman.

“Meeting Juliusz and learning about our father, a talented violinist and singer, filled a void I had carried for decades. “It was as if a missing piece of my life’s puzzle finally fell into place,” Milman said.

Elana and her father: (Courtesy: Elana Milman)


Their father served as a soldier in the Polish army during the Second World War but was wounded in service and sent to a German prisoner of war camp where he likely met Milman’s mother.

He and Juliusz’s mother met and married after the war but divorced when Juliusz was a small child.

Their father died in his forties.

Milman told Now Toronto she believes her biological mother and father’s time together was fleeting and that her father never knew about her, but that she was thrilled to learn he fought on the right side of history.

Milman has four children and ten grandchildren, and described writing her book and digging for answers about her heritage as a “pure therapeutic process.”

“I have a profound understanding of myself and my life,” she said, “I found a wonderful family.”

Her book, “The Secrets My Mother Kept” is available on Amazon.