Gerda Cole, who now resides in a long-term care facility, gave birth to a daughter at the age of 18. She had no choice but to give her up for adoption as a Jewish refugee during the height of World War II. She met her kid for the first time eighty years later.
The historic event occurred just in time for Mother’s Day. Sonya Grist, Gerda’s daughter who resides in England, went to Toronto, Canada, to celebrate her biological mother’s 98th birthday.
“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’s a thousand questions I’ve got to ask her, but I don’t want to bombard her.”
Sonya, who is now 80 years old, traveled to Canada with her son, Stephen Grist, to pay a visit to Gerda at the Revera Kennedy Lodge Long Term Care Home.
Gerda shrieked with delight as she hugged her daughter, and the two cuddled for quite some time.
“Eighty years old,” Gerda said in awe as she looked at Sonya, who jokingly responded, “Don’t emphasize my age.”
Gerda, at 15 years old, was moved to England by her family in 1939 to escape the persecution of Jews in Vienna, Austria.
She gave birth to her daughter in 1942 and put her up for adoption a few years later.
“I had very limited personal education, and this, combined with wartime, left me no recourse but to have Sonya adopted under the advice of the refuge committee,” she explained. “The condition was not to have any further connection with the child.”
After the war, Gerda immigrated to Canada and earned three degrees, including an honors BA in Jewish studies from the University of Toronto.
Last year, Stephen started researching his family tree in order to prove his Austrian ancestry so that his family might get citizenship in the nation. As a result, he made contact with Gerda’s stepson.
He discovered that his grandma, who was 97 years old at the time, was still alive. He was taken aback by the news and didn’t know how to tell Sonya, so he waited two weeks before informing 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.
After more than two years of dealing with the effects of the epidemic, the celebration was just what the nursing home residents needed.
“It’s been tough, it’s been a difficult time for the homes and our residents, and to have a party — which is something we haven’t done in a long, long time — brings back excitement into the home,” Wendy said.
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.