Greenbrae woman finds kin she hasnt seen for half century

Naomi Hanson, now a 57-year-old Greenbrae resident, had long accepted that she would never again meet her father's relatives.

Several months ago, the Red Cross proved her wrong, turning up six first cousins who live in Israel and Holland. At the end of December, Hanson met her cousin Joop Wolff, 68, who is visiting the Bay Area to see the woman he remembers as a toddler he once babysat in Amsterdam.

"It's been raining letters," Hanson says.

"I'm very excited. I'm also sad, because I was always very lonely wishing I had a large family. Here I am at 57; they're all in their 70s. So, you know, there isn't that much time left together."

Ironically, most of her six cousins told Hanson they have passed through the Bay Area on vacation over the years but had no idea she lived here. Similarly, Hanson was in Israel in 1992. She looked up her maiden name in an Israeli phone book and was disheartened to find hundreds of Wolffs — too many to call.

Help came when she heard about the American Red Cross' Holocaust survivor tracing program during a meeting of a Bay Area group for children hidden during the Holocaust.

After sending in an application last May, she was told that finding relatives in Europe could take two years. Since 1991, about 200 such inquiries have originated from the San Francisco Red Cross office; 18 people have been found alive; about the same number have been proven killed or dead.

The search is a tedious and time-consuming process, run here by volunteers like Marice Murphy, who works three afternoons a week helping survivors track their loved ones. "It's a miracle when we find someone. We don't know what we'll hear or when we'll hear it," Murphy says of awaiting records from Europe.

Instead of waiting, however, Hanson used resources from her childhood days in Holland. She contacted a woman she refers to only as "my hiding sister" with whom she spent the war years in Friesland.

The woman, whom Hanson hasn't seen since 1948, went directly to the Red Cross in Holland.

Two months later, Hanson received not only news of the six cousins (named Mo, Channa, Elphanan, Joop, Nelle and Lotti), but also a letter from one — care of the Red Cross.

She plans to meet all six this April in Israel.

"One cousin sent me a wedding picture of my parents. She was one of the bridesmaids. They all babysat me when I was a baby. They were all very close to my father and mother," Hanson says.

It was only 14 years ago that Hanson went back to Judaism. "I wasn't allowed to practice," she says of the childhood spent with an aunt and uncle so traumatized by the war that they hid their Judaism for the rest of their lives.

Now a member of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, Hanson says locating her long-lost cousins is the culmination of more than a decade of finding herself.