George Kantor has been looking for his niece for quite some time. Thirty years, to be precise. And while he has always known of the American Red Cross, he never imagined that they would be the ones that would finally reconnect them.
“I am still in shock,” Kantor said. “I have heard her voice; her excited laugh on the phone.”
In 1956, George Kantor was nearly 16, fleeing his native Hungary and fearing for his own safety after playing a messenger role in the anti-communist uprising there. His father, brothers and sisters had been tragically killed during World War II and when he fled, he left his only surviving family members—his mother and older sister—behind. After escaping to the European coast, he was discovered as a stowaway on a British ship in London sans passport or papers. Knowing the conditions in Eastern Europe, the ship’s officers turned a blind eye.
For years, Kantor remained in contact with his family. But when the Hungarian mail system collapsed in 1987, efficient communication became nearly impossible. He received word of his mother’s death six months after the funeral. Years passed. Now living in Denver, Colorado, with his wife Gretchen, personal health problems inspired George to take action and return to his homeland to seek out his past and his remaining family while he still had time. Some 57 years after leaving Hungary, he finally was able to return.
Now in his 70s, Kantor made the long trip to his village of Ivanca in August of 2013. He wanted to visit his mother’s grave and find his niece. After such a long absence, Kantor was “virtually a stranger,” struggling to recall his native language. Residents of his village were gracious and welcoming, but ultimately, while he had seen where his mother was put to rest, he couldn’t trace his niece.
In February 2014, a visit from Red Cross volunteer Robbe Sokolove back in Denver changed the course of Kantor’s search completely. Just weeks after leaving Ivanca, Kantor’s niece had also returned to his mother’s grave. Local business owners and residents explained to her that a man had been visiting from the U.S., looking for relatives. After decades of communism, it was imperative to keep Kantor and his niece’s personal information secure, so they turned to a “trusted source”: the Red Cross. The Red Cross then was able to send a message to Kantor telling him about his niece’s whereabouts.
Thirty years after separating, Kantor and his niece, now in her 60s, talked to each other on Skype.
“I could not have reunited with her without the help of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program,” said Kantor.
Every day, the American Red Cross—as part of our International Restoring Family Links program—transmits messages from all over the world to help people like George Kanor who have lost touch with their loved ones reconnect. Globally, over the last year the Red Cross and Red Crescent network facilitated the exchange of 279,000 messages between families separated by disaster and conflict. Annually the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world. For more information, visit redcross.org.