Gerda Cole, who now lives in a long-term care facility, had a daughter when she was only 18 years old. But, as a Jewish refugee during WWII, she had no choice but to give her up for adoption. She met her child for the first time eighty years later.
The historic event occurred just in time for Mother’s Day. Gerda’s daughter, Sonya Grist, who lives in England, flew to Toronto, Canada, to celebrate her biological mother’s 98th birthday with her.
“Just over a year ago I didn’t know that my mother was still alive,” Sonya said. “I knew very little. I still don’t know much and there are a thousand questions I’ve got to ask her, but I don’t want to bombard her.”
Sonya, now 80, arrived in Canada with her son, Stephen Grist, to visit Gerda at Revera Kennedy Lodge Long Term Care Home.
Gerda squealed with joy as she hugged her daughter, and the pair held onto each other for a long time.
“Eighty years old,” Gerda said in awe as she looked at Sonya, who jokingly responded, “Don’t emphasize my age.”
Gerda, then 15, was sent to England by her family in 1939 to escape the persecution of Jews in Vienna, Austria.
She gave birth to her daughter several years later, in 1942, and gave her up for adoption.
“I had very limited personal education, and this, combined with wartime, left me with no choice but to adopt Sonya on the advice of the refuge committee,” she explained. “The condition was that there be no further contact with the child.”
Gerda immigrated to Canada following the war and earned three degrees, including an honors BA in Jewish studies from the University of Toronto.
Stephen was tracing his family lineage last year to provide proof of Austrian descent so the family could obtain citizenship in the country. That led him to get in touch with Gerda’s stepson.
He learned that his grandmother was alive and 97 years old at the time. The news shocked him, and he didn’t know how to break it to Sonya, so he waited two weeks before telling her.
“The idea that her mother was still alive and she would have the opportunity to meet her was so exciting it just threw us all for a loop,” he said.
When Stephen finally told his mother, she said, “I want to get on an airplane to Canada right now and give her a big hug.”
That’s when he started tracking Gerda down, managing to contact her through her nursing home.
“When I heard, I just couldn’t believe it,” Gerda said. “This must be … a miracle. It means so much to be able to live to see this moment.”
According to Wendy Gilmour, senior vice president of long-term care at Revera, the plans to reunite the mother and daughter took several months.
“It is incredible the journey that all people have gone through, [Cole] and her children, and her grandchildren,” she said.
The celebration was exactly what the nursing home residents needed after dealing with the effects of the pandemic for over two years.
“It’s been a difficult time for the homes and our residents, and having a party — which we haven’t done in a long, long time — brings back excitement into the home,” Wendy explained.
As for Gerda, the event still seems surreal.
“(This reunion) has been amazing and surprising, but wonderful … I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe it. This is something to live a few more years for,” she said.
We’re so happy to see this mother and daughter finally reunited after eight decades! Witness Gerda and Sonya’s first meeting in the video below.
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