Even in the darkest of circumstances, friendships can blossom. Betty Grebenschikoff and Annemarie Wahrenberg became friends when they had no one else during the Holocaust. When the two young girls went their separate ways eight decades ago, they never thought they would see each other again. However, that all changed quite recently…
The Holocaust Survivors Part Ways
Just over 82 years ago, two girls on the run from the Nazis in Germany became friends, despite everything. Amid the Holocaust, Betty Grebenschikoff and Annemarie Wahrenberg still managed to find joy in each other. Sadly, the Nazi’s horrible reign would split them apart. Grebenschikoff moved with her family first moved with her family to Shanghai, China first, then to the United States. Meanwhile, the Wahrenbergs fled to Chile. There, Annemarie changed her named to Ana María, making it even harder for friends and family still in Germany to find her.
For years and years, the two friends remained like that: separated by nearly two continents, living distant lives. Unfortunately, it seemed it would always stay that way. That is, until Wahrenberg shared her story of her Holocaust escape with The Latin American Network, for a webinar entitled “Teaching of the Shoah.” There, one participant, Ita Gordon, felt mesmerized by Wahrenberg’s story. In fact, Gordon, a cataloguer and indexer of Holocaust survivors’ testimonies at USC Shoah Foundation, which helps Holocaust survivors in any way they can, felt sure she had heard the name “Wahrenberg” before…
Home To Do First
Knowing there was something to her hunch, Gordon searched the name Wahrenberg in the Holocaust Visual History Archive. As it turns out, she had heard the name before! Survivor Betty Grebenschikoff, Wahrenberg’s former friend, had mentioned her in a testimony on the horrors of the Holocaust. “I had one particular girlfriend whose name I always mention, can I mention it here?” Grebenschikoff recalled in the video testimony from 1997. “Her name was Annemarie Wahrenberg and I never knew what happened to her and I’m always wondering if maybe she’s somewhere and she can hear this….we were going to write to each other but we never did and I never heard from her again and I don’t know what ever happened to her. She probably died in the war but I’m not sure.”
The testimony was hard for Gordon to watch – but now she had some hope for Grebenschikoff! However, the cataloguer needed to do her homework. It could be another Annemarie Wahrenberg, after all. So, Gordon worked with the Museo Interactivo Judío in Chile to confirm. When she realized the Grebenschikoff and Wahrenberg, now both 91, were the long-lost best friends, Gordon felt overwhelmed. “I got so emotional,” she said. “I mean, I didn’t cry or anything, [but] what I did was stay very quiet and say to myself, ‘You may have to act, but right now, feel it.’ Because there might be a chance that two dear friends might be together [again].”
Friends Reunited After 82 Years!
Just a few days later, the two Holocaust survivors and friends reunited over a Zoom call. Wahrenberg and Grebenschikoff sat down with their families and talked for the first time in over eight decades! Grebenschikoff explained to Wahrenberg and her family that she never stopped looking for her friend, even when all hope seemed lost. “I could never find her,” she said. “I looked for her at the Holocaust Museum in Washington and in the database I looked for her. And I mention her name every time I give a talk, because I talk about the Holocaust. Just nothing ever happened, you know? And I just can’t believe that she’s there. It’s so exciting.”
“It was so natural for them,” Grebenschikoff’s grandson, Lucas Kirschman, explained. “They picked back up and they were talking about random stuff like no big deal… And it’s almost like language could have been a barrier, but it absolutely wasn’t at all. I’ve never heard my grandmother speak German before, ever.”
“Seeing Ana María and Betty on the Zoom call, along with their prosperous, healthy and happy families, this was the ultimate triumph over hate,” another family member said. The two friends ended the call with a toast of champagne to one another and their friendship. To Betty Grebenschikoff and Annemarie Wahrenberg!