Long separation ends in joyous reunion in Toronto

They spent 62 years apart, filled with longing and wondering. But on March 28, 2007, a mother and son, who were separated during World War II, were reunited with the help of the Canadian Red Cross Restoring Family Links program.

For Anna Rogers of Sunderland, Ontario, the moments waiting for her son, Andrzej Piekarski, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport felt almost as long as their many years apart.

“Where is he?” she asked, at times her nerves turning into tears as Red Cross Restoring Family Links coordinator Radmila Rokvic-Pilipovic held her hand and offered reassurance.

When Andrzej finally appeared, Anna embraced her son and they held hands.

"I thought maybe she wasn't alive," said Andrzej. “I lost hope of seeing her again.”

“This is a very proud moment for us,” said Rokvic-Pilipovic. “We are so happy that we could play a part in bringing this family back together.”

During World War II, Anna was forced to leave her home country of Poland and was sent to a labour camp in Vienna, Austria. She left her then infant son with her mother-in-law as her husband and several other relatives had died in the war. Anna never thought she would be separated from her son for so long.

When her camp was liberated at the end of the war, Anna moved to Great Britain and sent for her son in Poland, but to no avail.  She spent many years trying to write to her son and eventually immigrated to Canada.

Several years later, Andrzej had contacted the Polish Red Cross to ask for help in searching for his mother. Several Red Cross National Societies were involved in bringing the pair back together.

On the eve of Andrzej’s name day, the day in Poland dedicated to the saint he is named for, the mother and son spoke to each other for the first time on the phone. Andrzej said when he answered he immediately knew it was his mother.

"It was the best gift for names day I've ever received," he said.

The Canadian Red Cross Restoring Family Links program helps Canadians re-establish contact with immediate family members after separation due to war, internal conflict, natural disaster and other humanitarian crises.

Similarly, individuals in other countries can place inquires to find relatives in Canada through the network of 187 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross throughout the world. Restoring Family Links is at the heart of the humanitarian mandate of the Canadian Red Cross, and is a vital component of the protections mandated under several articles of the Geneva conventions.

Each year more than 1,000 people seek help from the Canadian Red Cross to re-establish contact with their family members.