Restoring Family Links: Connecting Susan Stevens

Restoring Family Links: Connecting Susan Stevens

Hugh and Susan Stevens are on a mission to preserve part of their family history. A few years ago, the couple visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin and after reading about the people and families impacted, she felt it was time to dig further into her own untold family story.

While cleaning out some items that belonged to her late aunt, Vera Rosenthal, Susan stumbled upon two well-preserved typed letters emblazoned with the American Red Cross logo.

Dated June 14th and November 30th of 1943, the letters showed the Chicago Chapter of the American Red Cross was trying to reach Susan’s father, Hans Friedman, to deliver personal messages. These letters would show the lengths family members went to in hopes of reaching loved ones across the sea they feared had forgotten them.

Hans left the city of Berlin as well as his mother, Lotte, and his sister and her husband, Vera and Kurt Rosenthal, in 1938 to begin a new life in America. Hans did not believe Vera nor Lotte had survived the war in Germany.

It wasn’t until a few years later when the Red Cross aided Lotte and Vera in trying to locate Hans that he even knew they were still alive. Susan says her father was so happy to learn his mother and sister had survived, and amazed that the Red Cross was able to track him down.

“It gave them great hope,” said Susan Stevens. “It was very exciting for my parents to receive these letters and then obviously significant since they kept them all these years.”

About 70 years after the letters were delivered to Susan’s father, her husband Hugh noticed another personal connection to the Red Cross. Listed under the Board of Directors was Elmer T. Stevens, a relative of Hugh.

There is much more to this family’s story of survival, but the Red Cross was there to help reconnect them when their fate was uncertain.

The American Red Cross has been working to reconnect families after the chaos and confusion of war and disasters for decades. Whether it has been weeks or years, the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago can help you find and reconnect with loved ones around the world after natural disasters, armed conflict, migration or other humanitarian emergencies. The American Red Cross works with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations to reconnect nearly 5,000 families each year through tracing, certificates of detention, migration and other forms of documentation.

To learn more about the Red Cross mission to Restore Family Links, please visit our website at redcross.org/familylinks.

 

Spreading the Word: Restoring Family Links

RFLOutreach Mini-Grant volunteer lead, Whitney Trumble, and International Programs Support Manager, Michelle McSweeney, presented on the ‘Restoring Family Links’ (RFL) program at DePaul University’s Law School in April.

The event was hosted by DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law (SAIL), a student organization that looks to expose law students to asylum and immigration law through guest speakers, presentations and firsthand experience in the Greater Chicago area.

Students from SAIL gathered during their lunch hour to gain perspective on the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program.

The Restoring Family Links program helps locate and restore communication between families separated internationally by conflict, disaster or other humanitarian emergencies. By using the global Red Cross network 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 each year.

After receiving a mini-grant through the Red Cross, Whitney, together with a team of both new and experienced RFL members, developed a strategic plan to increase outreach in the Greater Chicago area. By connecting with local student groups, community organizations and public resources they are spreading awareness of RFL services.

DePaul’s Society for Asylum and Immigration Law provided an excellent outreach opportunity, as many of the students in attendance are also involved in DePaul University’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic (AILC) that works to assist clients on legal cases relating to asylum, justice or immigration issues. Students expressed that RFL services could be of use to clients they are now working with through the AILC.

Over the next few months, the Restoring Family Links outreach team will be scheduling more events like this one to increase knowledge on RFL services throughout the Greater Chicago region. The RFL team is specifically targeting Chicago neighborhoods with large immigrant and refugee populations such as Rogers Park, Pilsen, Uptown, Bridgeport, Humboldt Park and more. By focusing on these neighborhoods the outreach team hopes to connect with as many community members as possible, always with the ultimate goal of helping others reconnect with their loved ones throughout the world.

The Chicago Restoring Family Links team will be hosting a series of community events in Spring 2014 to share information on this program and how you can connect to the mission. If you are interested in attending one of the three upcoming events, please contact Mini-Grant Lead, Whitney Trumble at Whitney.Trumble@redcross.org.

To learn more about the Restoring Family Links program and to connect with the local program team, please visit us at http://www.redcross.org/il/chicago/local-programs/reconnecting-families.

Written By: Michelle McSweeney

Syrian Conflict Separates Sisters – Red Cross Reconnects Them

Syria%20Map%201I recently had the opportunity to speak to members of the Restoring Family Links Advocate Committee at their annual meeting in DC.  It was an honor to be invited and I was grateful for the opportunity to share about some of my cases.

One of these cases involved a family tracing effort for a woman named Sara (pseudonym) in Chicago who had lost contact with her sister. This scenario is fairly common for the Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross, but what was difficult about this case is that my client’s sister was living in war-torn Syria.

Sara came to our office with her daughter, and together they told us the story of their family. Sara’s sister was living with her children in a remote region of Syria. Normally Sara would call her sister daily—just to have a quick conversation and make sure that the family was all right.

One day Sara called and the phone lines were down. This had Syria%20Map%202happened before, but normally the lines would be operating within a few days. However, this time, that did not happen. She started calling more frequently, not just once, but multiple times a day. Every time, the results were the same: the phone lines remained down.

Through Internet research, the family discovered that the area had come under fighting and attacks had destroyed the phone lines. What the family could not find through these searches, however, was any information about potential deaths through these clashes. They simply had no way of knowing the fate of their family members.

Since the start of the civil war, over 2 million refugees have fled Syria for the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq with millions more displaced internally.

There was additional concern. Various sides were trying to recruit Sara’s young nephews. Her anxiety had become unbearable. Sara wanted to start a family tracing case, but was worried that efforts to locate the family might bring unwanted attention that could harm the young boys who had thus far avoided joining the fighting.

The story was heartbreaking. The details and levels of concern were very difficult to hear. Despite a desire to help and a sincere compassion for the family, my RFL team and I worried about logistics.

Would National Headquarters be able to accept the case?

Would the Syrian Red Crescent be able to conduct RFL work at this time?

How long would the family have to wait to find other any news?

After a frantic phone call with a caseworker in DC, I was encouraged to submit the case. Not only was it accepted, but it was also marked as high priority and released for tracing work to begin. Within weeks, we received notice that the family was found! Through already established religious networks, we were able to contact the family and confirm that they were ALIVE and well!

I cannot describe to you the relief that Sara expressed when she was told the news! In time, the phone lines were restored, and she was once again able to talk to her sister.

I have checked in with the family, and the story remains the same. Life in Syria is still incredibly hard, but what has changed is that the family now knows that they have an ally. They know that if the phones go down again, someone can help.

There are many instances where I have been unsure if a case can even be accepted, yet, a family reconnection occurs. This is why I do tracing work and love being an RFL caseworker.

Written by: Christa Kuntzelman