They met as children in Berlin, innocent pawns in a world that was coming at them fast and furious.
They would soon become part of the collateral damage of families and friends devastated by the war Nazis waged against the Jews. As the violence escalated, both girls’ families decided it would be best to flee.
And so they met at a schoolyard near their homes in Berlin to say goodbye. Ilse Betty Grebenschikoff and Anne Maria Wahrenberg were only 9 years old at the time.
As they said goodbye, they hugged, cried and promised to re-connect someday soon. Best friends forever, they vowed.
The years rolled by and those well-intentioned vows because less and less likely to become a reality. They both thought that the other’s family had been caught up in the tragic collateral damage of the Holocaust, and they both presumed the other one was dead. But they persisted in a search that seemed next to impossible.
“She would talk about Anne Marie and what it meant for her to lose this friendship,” Betty’s daughter, Jennifer Grebenschikoff of Tampa told tampabay.com.
But Wahrenberg was very much alive. She had changed her first name to Ana, after fleeing to Chile with her family months after they escaped. During her time in Chile, Wahrenberg shared her experiences about growing up as a Jewish girl in Nazi Germany.
Last November, she shared that story during a Zoom conference about the Night of Broken Glass in November of 1938, when the Nazi regime coordinated a wave of antisemitic violence in Germany.
Another person — Ita Gordon, an indexer with the Shaoh Foundation — was also involved with the conference. She began searching for more information on Wahrenberg but couldn’t find anything more. She did come across a mention of Ilse Betty Grebenschikoff.
She had re-located to St. Petersburg, Florida, after her husband died.
“What followed Ita’s work was a series of phone calls and correspondence between USC Shoah Foundation and The Florida Holocaust Museum, where Betty is active, and the Museo Interactivo Judio de Chile, where Ana Maria has long been involved in a range of activities,” The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg wrote in a statement to tampabay.com.
You know what comes next.
After 80 years, they finally reconnected. They were able to talk via Zoom in November and plan to meet in person in Miami in September.
“We speak every week or every other week,” Grebenschikoff said. “We talk about the old days. We talk about our lives now. It is incredible that we are talking. We had a connection from the start. We were laughing and talking in German while everybody else, the families on both sides, were crying. It is unbelievable.”