Thanks to local junior high students, two long-lost friends have reconnected after more than 70 years apart. Skokie resident Edith Westerfield and Seattle resident Gerda Katz met as young girls fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938.
“I think we both were so overwhelmed leaving our parents that we depended on each other,” said Westerfield.
After coming to America, the two lost touch shortly after coming to America…until recently. More than 70 years after the Holocaust began, 8th graders at Madison Junior High learned of their story in a novel called “Is It Night or Day?” written by Westerfield’s daughter, Fern Chapman. This inspired the students to reconnect the former friends.
“We figured we’d kind of give back in such a small way that maybe even would change somebody’s life,” said 8th grader Michelle Ross. “We figured it’s our responsibility to do that even though we didn’t know Edith.”
While searching the web, some students discovered a recent article in Seattle’s local newspaper about Gerda’s 60th wedding anniversary. Seeing that the article mentioned she’s a holocaust survivor, the students knew they had found the right woman.
“When we found a possible match in our class, I was ecstatic,” said Kyle Jensen, Madison Junior High 8th grader. “I was just awestruck that we even found out of the millions of people in America that we actually found the Gerda Katz that we were looking for.“
The students then contacted Katz, who now lives in Seattle.
“I was shocked,” said Katz. “I just couldn’t believe it and it was so fresh in my mind. All the memories came back.”
Westerfield and Katz have since then began sending emails on talking on the phone. Westerfield came to Madison to thank the students for rekindling that friendship.
“I’m overwhelmed that they were that moved by the story and took such an interest that they did this,” said Westerfield.
As for Edith, it was a very happy 86th birthday indeed. She says talking to her old friend again has not only provided friendship, but has closed the chapter on a profound part of her life.
“It’s an experience from the past coming back together,” said Westerfield.
Westerfield plans to finally reunite with Katz in person when she visits Katz at her Seattle home this summer.
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