One Century, One Cousin & One Skype Connection

Written by Active Minds on Monday the 4th of November 2013.

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Hand of an older person using the mouse of a computer

Photograph: MBI/Alamy (via The Guardian article How youngsters are helping older people move online)

Our guest blogger, Lesley Woolfe, Project Co-ordinator for the Association of Jewish Refugees, writes about one of the many stories she is privileged to learn about when visiting someone with dementia (with the help of a family member to fill in some of the gaps).

I went to visit Mrs. S on Wednesday 25th September. Mrs. S lives with her son who is her main carer. Mrs. S turned 100 in February this year and remembers all the flowers and cards she received, especially the one she received from the Queen. Mrs. S is aware that she is becoming repetitive and forgetful and explained to me that “her brain does not work anymore”. I told her that is certainly did but that it may just be a little bit slower.

Mrs. S, prompted by her son, started to tell me the story of how she left Germany when she was 26 years of age. She said goodbye to her family and especially remembers her cousin who was 10 at the time. She took photographs of her family and came to England on a domestic permit.

Mrs. S did not know whether or not any of the family she had said goodbye to had survived. However, unbeknown to her, her young cousin was sent away by his family, initially to live in France, and then later he settled in Israel. Unfortunately all the other members of their respective families perished in a Concentration Camp.

Mrs. S’s cousin was obviously keen to try to locate any family that may still be alive. He visited Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial) and there he discovered the photographs that Mrs. S had sent and he knew she was still alive.

Two weeks after Mrs. S’s 100th birthday the telephone rang in her home and when her son answered the person introduced himself as the cousin’s grandson.  His grandfather was now 83 years of age and he had not seen Mrs. S since he was 10. The grandson asked if Mrs. S’s son had a computer as his grandfather was sitting next to him and they could speak to each other using skype. Imagine Mrs S’s joy when she was finally able to see her cousin through skype and talk with him. She told me over and over again how she had not seen him since 1939!

I found this an extremely emotional story and I was told that the grandson would be visiting London in a few weeks time and would be staying with Mrs. S and her son. I will let you know how the visit went when I next visit with Mrs. S.

My Project has been funded by the Six Point Foundation who make grants to Holocaust survivors and refugees so that they can live a better life.

I train volunteer befrienders how to be accepting; non-judgmental, slow down and to “step into the world of someone living with dementia”.