By Gary Koeppel
I’ve had an interest in genealogy since the mid-1980s. During the pre-internet era, I mostly used mail and telecommunications to connect with distant family members. Much of my information came from my mother and was mostly anecdotal. Once the internet became widely available, my primary source for information was the JewishGen website. Through JewishGen’s Family Finder and Discussion Groups, I discovered other relatives researching the Koeppel family and thereafter formed a collaboration.
I first became aware of the existence of cousins in England when my paternal grandmother passed in 1983. In cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn, my mother located numerous photographs which were sent to my grandparents by the family in England who fostered my grandfather’s niece, my father’s cousin. Appreciating my interest in genealogy, my mother passed the photographs on to me. She told me that the girl in the photos was transported from Prague to England around 1939 when she was seven years old to escape the rising anti-Semitism in central Europe. All she knew was that her name was Alexandra, she was the daughter of my paternal grandfather’s sister, and that she was placed in the home of a British family. Several of the photographs listed the name of the photographer and the city where their business was located. Thus, the only details I had at that time was her name, Alexandra, and the city of Maidstone, England.
I spent many years thereafter attempting to locate Alexandra from Maidstone. I sent copies of the photographs to the photographer named on the picture frames, without success. I contacted the Association of Jewish Refugees in London, without success. In January of 2017 I Googled “Koeppel in London” and then blindly emailed a “Koeppel” namesake who was listed there and asked if she was a relative and also whether she had ever heard of anyone named Alexandra from Maidstone who had been transported from Prague as a child. We exchanged genealogical information and concluded that we could not find a common ancestor. She directed me, however, to a 2009 article in a British newspaper regarding the 70th anniversary of the Czech Kindertransport from Prague to England.
This was the breakthrough I needed! The BBC article (see link below**) reported that Sir Nicholas Winton, the man who launched the rescue operation of 669 children from Czechoslovakia in 1939, spoke to the group of former Kindertransport evacuees. I was quite certain I had found my cousin when I read:
Alexandra Greensted, 77, from what was Czechoslovakia and now living in Maidstone, Kent, described it as a “very emotional day”.
“I can’t remember much about the actual train journey,” she said. “All I can remember is being at the railway station crying my eyes out. I left my father and two older brothers behind.”
After reading the article, I contacted the organizers of the reunion and they graciously forwarded my email inquiry to Alexandra Greensted, whom they were in contact with eight years earlier. Alexandra’s daughter Helen immediately responded to my inquiry.
Since then, Alexandra and her two daughters, Helen and Vicki, reunited with our family in Berkeley, California and New York. They shared with us that Alexandra’s mother had died a month after Alexandra’s birth in 1932 and is buried in a Jewish Cemetery in Pilsen, Czech Republic. Sadly, Alexandra’s father and two older brothers perished in the Holocaust.
Most recently, we were able to locate Alexandra’s relatives on her father’s side (the Pfeifer family), also residing on the east and west coasts of the United States.
Through information I received via JewishGen, Ancestry.com, and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Melbourne, Australia, I located my paternal grandfather’s brother’s family in Australia.
I have now brought together the descendant families of my grandfather and his two siblings who were separated by time, wars, anti-Semitism, faded memories, and great distances.
Berkeley, California, USA
** Links to two articles quoting Alexandra regarding the Kindertransport Reunion:
Research Notes and Hints
Gary gained valuable information about his family through:
JewishGen’s Family Finder https://www.jewishgen.org/jgff/
JewishGen’s Discussion Group https://www.jewishgen.org/JewishGen/DiscussionGroup.htm.
Australian Jewish Genealogical Society http://www.ajgs.org.au/
Using Google to locate and contact people with his surname in London resulted in the breakthrough he needed to find the newspaper article that mentioned Alexandra.
Further information about Nicholas Winton and the rescue of children from Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939 can be found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.