Search for Siblings – Reunion in Russia:
Hope Fulfilled, Part 3
Tandberg, Kathy. "Search for Siblings – Reunion in Russia: Hope Fulfilled, Part 3." Beulah Beacon, 10 November 2005, sec. 6A.
"I have found your brother and sister!"
Those were the words Valerie Ingram yearned to hear, but only in
a million dreams, a million fairy tales, could it happen.
But it was true. Her dream was coming true. Valerie’s eldest
half-brother Adolf and half-sister Emma, thought to have died in
the turmoil of Russia during World War II, were alive.
Together for the first
time when the Americans and Russians meet in Russia. Front from
left, Angie, Emma and Valerie; back, Adie and David.
The siblings share the same father, Michael Renner, a Ukraine born
German from Russia who during the war fled Russia in fear for his
life. He made it into Germany in 1944, believing that one day his
wife, Leogadia, and their children would follow.
Several years later, believing his family dead, Renner remarried
Angela Keifel, another German from Russia refugee. The couple and
the family they had begun were later airlifted by the U.S. to America,
settling first in North Dakota, then in Spokane, Wash., where they
raised a family of six children.
All that remained of the eldest Renner children was a black and
white photograph that had always hung prominently on the wall of
the family home.
Still fearing for his life and that of his new family, Renner forbid
his children to search for his first children until after his death
Valerie spent several years searching for these lost siblings,
always holding onto hope that she would find something, anything,
that would prove they had once existed. The search included several
villages where her father or other Renner relatives had once lived.
Valerie began planning a trip to Russia with a tour company leaving
Sept. 16, 2003. The tour company agreed to include the Russian Ukrainian
villages connected to her father.
After hearing of her search for siblings, the tour company owner
Robert Schneider passed the information on to Valentina Fromm, a
tour guide in the Ukraine.
"Valentina volunteered to make inquires for us. I shared
my family data and documents via my website in hopes she could see
something that I was perhaps over looking," said Valerie.
Fromm went the extra mile to help this American family, searching
archives and documentation, as well as traveling to the villages
in question. Her endeavors paid off.
She found Adolf’s address in the phone book for Kramatorsk
The news that came Jan. 22, 2003 from the Ukraine via email to
Valerie in her Spokane home was indeed a dream come true. It was
more than she had ever hoped for.
Emma and Adolf were alive!
Emma, now 70, and Adolf, now called Adie and age 68, were at first
skeptical when they heard there were American siblings looking for
Valentina had called Adie’s home, speaking to his wife Anna,
telling her that she was helping his American brothers and sisters
search for them.
Anna went to Adie’s workplace with the news, and then they
went to Emma’s home in the same city, where they told her.
A phone call with Valerie was arranged. Our first phone calls were
made through a translator here in Spokane. Now we can call and my
neice Aveta translates for me.
"They were excited, saying ‘this only happens in the
movies.’ But my brother Alex here in Spokane was skeptical.
He thought it was a scam, women looking for husbands. I reminded
him that we had searched for him. He hadn’t searched for us,
so how did they know of us?" Valerie said.
Valerie learned that her Russian siblings had Internet access at
a local café. She convinced them to go there and look up
her website where they would find a photo of themselves as children.
After looking at the website that also included photos of their
father and his American family, they saw their own picture of themselves
on my website which was identical to theirs.
Emma wondered, "how could the same photo be on the other side
of the world, if it is not by their father?"
The Russian family was finally convinced, but the past laid heavily
on Adie’s mind. Later Valerie heard that he had tossed and
turned all night long. His mind swam with questions.
Why didn’t their father look for them? Why? How did he get
The reunited siblings began corresponding that January, giving
Valerie months to answer what she knew of their father’s life.
Photos passed between the older and younger siblings.
"The resemblance between Adie and my father left no doubt
he was indeed my brother," said Valerie. At that time, she
had not seen any other pictures of other Renners that resembled
other than my youngest brother Mikey.
Phone calls passed between the Russian siblings and six American
siblings as they tried to fill in their missing years. Soon it was
September, the time to meet in person. No longer was it a trip of
searching, but a trip of fulfillment.
Valerie would go in her father’s place to tell Emma and Adie
how their father had loved them until the day he died.
Joining Valerie on this emotional trip were her sister, Angie,
and cousin David Kilwien. Before arriving at the village where Emma
and Adie resided, the tour group stopped in other villages that
were important to the Renner family, including Speier, where Michael
had lived as a boy.
"In Speier I felt I had come home," Valerie said.
Valerie and Angie were walking down a street in Speier when a strange
feeling came over them. Speier is the village where their grandfather,
Christian Renner, had been arrested, beaten and tortured for days.
Then he was executed in the streets as an example to the other villagers.
Suddenly the sisters got chills in the hot, 90-degree air.
"The hair on our arms and on the back of our necks rose up.
We turned to each other and we just knew this was the spot (where)
our grandfather had died. Our eyes filled with tears and we huddled
together," said Valerie.
Then they learned they were standing on the exact street where
the execution had taken place in front of the government building.
Finally they were ready to catch the train for their first face-to-face
meeting with Emma and Adie. They would have six days together. The
travelers arrived at a train station near their village late that
night. As they gathered their bags to exit the train the weary travelers
heard a commotion outside. It was a tiny, petite Emma, looking for
her American sisters.
"I was tackled in the corridor and we kissed and hugged,
and the whole time she was talking Russian … I was tackled
once more and there was my brother Adie. And of course, he was also
talking Russian. After Adie it was my niece Natalya," Valerie
At the house more family members, including Anna, another niece,
Sveta, and a nephew, Valera, met them.
Their six days flew by, filled with celebration, stories of their
lives and families in America and Russia and we told them about
going to the Renner Chutor-they still have not been there.
Valerie and Angie explained that an old friend of their father
had once told him that his family had all been sent to Siberia and
disappeared, so he thought they were dead.
In efforts to share their own family personally, Valerie and Angie
brought a video to Russia of their father’s last birthday
party, taken shortly before his death at 87.
They sat together, the Americans and the Russians, and watched
as the American family unfolded before Adie and Emma’s eyes.
"Emma sat quietly with tears streaming down her cheeks as
she finally saw her father as an actual living person and heard
his voice again. Adie was quiet as well, mesmerized by what he was
seeing on the television screen," Valerie said emotionally.
Emma shared her memories of the day their father left for Germany.
"She remembers him leaning out the train doorway and how
he said if things got bad their mother should sell the house,"
She never saw her father again.
Emma and Adie’s mother had believed that her Russian blood
would keep her and the children from harm. But life was hard for
Emma and Adie because they had a German name.
"They had few friends," Valerie said.
They told Valerie their mother couldn’t hold a job because
as soon as the employer learned that she was married to a German
she would be fired. Their mother never gave up as she struggled
to feed the family and keep fuel in the house.
Eventually, she had no choice and did what Michael had said in
his last farewell. She sold their large family home.
"(Emma and Adie) were put into a foster home for two years.
There Adie’s name was changed to Edward to make it easier
on him," Valerie said.
Emma, now a widow, eventually married a Russian officer and raised
two children. She worked as a secretary. Adie married as well, he
has one daughter and recently retired from his job as "a schlosser"
The time in Russia flew by quickly and soon it was time for a tearful
"The hardest part was saying good-bye at the train station.
Seeing them stand there at the end of the platform just broke your
heart. We had only been with them six days and already we were family
like we had known each other forever," recalled Valerie.
Valerie and her Russian siblings communicate regularly through
an Internet connection at the home of Sveta.
"I sent them a web-cam so we can see each other and talk
with MSN Messenger," Valerie said.
Valerie also has a computer program that translates the Russian
emails into English and translates English emails into Russian.
Emma has since written that she does not blame their father for
not searching for them. She knows it was to protect them for if
they had been found then, they might have died.
One final plan will bring this reunion full-circle – that
is the dream to bring Emma and Adie to America to meet the rest
of their brothers and sisters.
It is a dream that will have to wait. Valerie said her niece Natalya’s
application for a visitor visa was turned down by the United States
even though Valerie and her family have sent letters stating the
reason for the visit.
"She was turned down because since she was young, pretty
and single they think she only wants to come to America to get married
and stay," said Valerie. Adie and Emma have also been turned
down because the US consulate felt that Adie and Emma had stronger
ties to the USA than they did to Ukraine, even though they were
leaving their families behind.
But Valerie will not give up hope. After all, she truly believes
in miracles now.
"Miracles do happen. We’ll never give up hope,"
Reprinted with permission of the Beulah Beacon.