They were orphaned and though sisters wrenched apart amid the carnage of the Second World War.
But almost 80 years on, two elderly Polish women have learned of each other’s existence and been reunited thanks to DNA tests that also revealed they are Jewish.
Halina Michałowska and Krystyna Leszczynska, both around 80, live little more than 200 miles away from each other.
Home genetic tests produced a 52 per cent chromosome match between the pair, proving them to be sisters.
The results from genetic testing firm 23andme also show great-grandmother Ms Leszczynska to be “95.3 per cent Ashkenazi Jewish”.
Speaking to the JC from her home in north-west Poland, she recalled reeling from the extraordinary revelations after her test last month. She said: “It was a massive, massive shock for me. I think everyone would feel like that in my shoes. What runs through my head is that I was not simply abandoned as a child, but that maybe someone has tried very hard to save me from the Holocaust.
“And while I have always thought that I was alone in this world, now it’s turned out that I and my sister were left together in a safe place.”
The two sisters pictured separately (Credit: Michałowska/Leszczynska)
She was raised in an orphanage run by nuns in the east-central village of Jadow before living with a family near the Polish capital. After a video call with her sister, she recently travelled by train to Gdynia, a city in northern Poland, to meet her in person. During the four-hour journey, she was filled with apprehension.
She said: “I was thinking, ‘What will our first meeting be like? How will I feel about her and how will she feel about me?’” They met in a restaurant surrounded by loved ones. “When we saw each other for the very first time, I approached her and she approached me, and we just hugged each other.
“Then everyone thought we were so alike. Everyone said we were spitting images of each other. Well after all, we are sisters.”
Ms Michałowska’s origins had been revealed by a 23andme DNA test five years earlier. According to the results, she is 96.1 per Ashkenazi Jewish. Like her sister, Ms Michałowska was adopted from a Polish orphanage. She was discovered as a toddler, wrapped in a blanket in a church near the city of Siedlce. Growing up, she knew very little about her background.
She said: “I had long black curly hair and people gossiped that I was Jewish, but I was too small to understand and I did not think about it at the time and what it meant.
“People gossiped about my looks and where I came from and later I started to think about it but I still did not understand the resentment that some people felt towards Jewish people.”
The sisters have found they not only share looks and mannerisms but also many interests.
Ms Michałowska said: “It turns out we both are constantly singing. I constantly have music playing in my head. We also write poems and rhymes. We both make liqueurs and Krystyna, like me, loves eggnog. I never thought I would find a sister and I am still shocked and surprised, but when we are together we are very similar.”
She added, laughing: “Apparently she is as much of a witch as I am.”
The sisters hope to find out more about their birth parents and their stories. Ms Michałowska said: “It was during the war and all that we have are assumptions. They could have been on a transport to concentration camps for example. Treblinka was near where I was found.”
Ms Leszczynska added: “Every night, before going to sleep, I keep thinking about my parents. I pray that my mother will come to me in my dream and show me her face.”
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VIDEO: The pair meet for the first time at a restaurant in northern Poland earlier this month. "oh my, oh mother," says Ms Michałowska. “I still don’t believe it”. (Credit: Michałowska/Leszczynska).