ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Florida woman has been reunited with her best friend after fleeing Nazi Germany more than 80 years ago.
Betty Grebenschikoff, 91, recalled the moment she had to say goodbye to her best friend, Ana Maria Wahrenberg. At the time, she was 9 years old.
"My father took me and her father took Ana Maria to the school playground to say goodbye to each other and that was very traumatic for both of us. We wanted to be together," Grebenschikoff said.
Grebenschikoff's family fled Nazi Germany. She said her father bribed a shipping company for tickets to Shanghai, China.
"We didn’t have any papers. We didn’t have any passports and it was very difficult for us. We had no friends anywhere in America or England," she said. "My father found out Shanghai was one of the few open ports, Shanghai, China, where if you could get yourself out of Germany somehow you could go there without a visa. You could just walk in."
She never saw or spoke to Wahrenberg again. The women always believed the other had died in the Holocaust.
"We said goodbye to each other and my family and I and my sister and one uncle and one aunt went to China by ship and I never heard another word from her at all," Grebenschikoff said.
Grebenschikoff spent her childhood in China. She later moved to Australia and then New Jersey. She got married and has five children and currently, she lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
"I would say, one of the best days of my life (was) coming to America," she said. "(I) always wanted to do that, delighted to do that."
Grebenschikoff always thought about her childhood friend she left behind. She often spoke about her during the testimony she gave as a Holocaust survivor.
An indexer from the USC Shoah Foundation, a nonprofit organization that produces and preserves testimony of Holocaust survivors, connected the dots.
The organization got in touch with the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
Grebenschikoff and Wahrenberg reunited virtually on a Zoom call in November.
"And of course, the reunion as you could imagine was incredible, totally incredible," Grebenschikoff said.
Elizabeth Gelman, the executive director at The Florida Holocaust Museum, said it is a story about friendships and partnerships.
"I think we all can relate to the story of friends, separate, especially our friends from when we were a child that many of us haven’t seen and to be able to watch this reunion is just so fantastic on so many different levels," Gelman said. "It really feeds your heart and soul."
"Every time that I hear a story from a Holocaust survivor, it’s a miracle. This type of miracle that happens 82 years after the Holocaust is really extraordinary. It is such a happy note and really meaningful for all of us."
The two ladies plan to reunite in person in September. Grebenschikoff hopes her story inspires others to never lose hope.
"When I saw her again and I found out she was alive, I thought my life had come full circle," Grebenschikoff said. "I hope that people who hear this will think that maybe somewhere there’s hope for them if they’re looking for someone, or looking for some better way of life. It could happen."
This story was originally published by Julie Salomone on WFTS in Tampa, Florida.