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 in 1997.

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 (Ukraine).

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 them.

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 to America?

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 said.

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," Valerie said.

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" man.

The time in Russia flew by quickly and soon it was time for a tearful farewell.

"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," said Valerie.

Reprinted with permission of the Beulah Beacon.

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