"Leon, I presume?" (*), tracing related to World War II

Leon, a 75 year old retired engineer from California, was struggling for years to find out what happened to Max: 'When you become older, you start thinking about what really matters in life', he says.

On 30 October 1942, the German occupying power transported Jewish children, including Leon, from the orphanage in Wezembeek-Oppem to the Dossin army barracks in Mechelen. Thanks to an intervention of the royal family, the children were eventually not put on transport for deportation. Walking to the truck which would bring them back to the orphanage, the children noticed a group of very small children in a separate room. There were no guards nearby and instinctively each of the older children took a smaller child with him. In doing so, Leon carried away Max. Back at the orphanage, Leon took great care of Max, who grew attached to him. In 1943, Leon had to change his shelter regularly, in order to avoid arrest. Consequently, he lost contact with Max. When the war ended, he heard that Max was adopted by a Canadian family.

Leon requested the American Red Cross to help him find Max. The information at hand was very limited. Since Max was probably born in Belgium, the Tracing service of the Red Cross Flanders tried to find more details. A significant clue was found at the Service for War Victims: his father, mother and sister were deported to Auschwitz. Eventually, we also found Max's exact date of birth. Using this date as a reference, colleagues from the Canadian Red Cross searched the immigration archives. They traced Max: his name is Michael and he carries the family name of his adoptive parents.

Both persons wanted to meet each other as soon as possible and, shortly afterwards, Max travelled to Los Angeles. Michael has almost no memories of his stay in Belgium. When they finally see each other, they stand together as strangers, but nevertheless with a very strong link. Since that moment, they are in regular contact with each other. Both of them learned to live with the loss of their families and the feeling of guilt having survived the Holocaust.

* Max's / Michael's first words, when he met Leon at the airport.

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