When Morris Rosen, a Baltimore volunteer in the Red Cross national center for tracing Holocaust survivors, was asked how to pronounce the name of a Polish town on a search request recently, a dark-haired 15-year-old girl he fancied more than 50 years ago came to mind.
She was the sister of Harry Nordon, a Holocaust survivor from Queens, N.Y., who was searching for his family separated by the war. "I know that man," Mr. Rosen exclaimed to the startled staff. They had grown up together in the same town.
Dombrowa (or Dum-brow-uh). Morris Rosen could pronounce it like a native.
Yesterday, in front of the Central Maryland chapter of the American Red Cross with 75 well-wishers looking on, many of them teary-eyed, 68-year-old Morris Rosen and 69-year-old Harry Nordon met again for the first time in 52 years, hugging in an emotional embrace.
A lifetime had separated them. But memories of the old neighborhood came stampeding back yesterday. And for a while, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Nordon were kids again in Dombrowa, going to Hebrew school, hurrying home from the synagogue on Saturday afternoon to meet friends at a teen-age club and dreaming of living in Palestine.
Those were the good days. Then came Sept. 5, 1939, a day locked forever in a teen-age memory, when the Germans occupied their hometown. Life would change for everyone. Many families were separated, some forever. Many would lose their lives in the Holocaust.
Morris Rosen and Harry Nordon were eventually taken to separate forced-labor camps. Each lived through five labor and concentration camps. Mr. Nordon escaped four times. Mr. Rosen had jumped out a window and was found unconscious the day he was liberated by Russian troops.
Mr. Nordon has been in the United States since 1948 and Mr. Rosen since 1950. Both have spent most of their lives on the East Coast. They married and had families.
Mr. Nordon said he has tried ever since the war ended to find three sisters, two brothers and his father, whom he has not seen since soldiers took him from his home in 1941. But only a few months ago did he learn through a newspaper ad about the American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center, which was located in Washington until moving to Baltimore a year ago.
Survivors searching for family and friends begin by visiting their local Red Cross chapter and filling out a form, supplying identifying information on the people they want to locate.
Then the form is sent to the Baltimore center, which makes an initial search of its data base to see if there are clues to the location of a missing person, Steve Mandel, program administrator, said. The center translates information supplied on the form into German and sends it on to the Red Cross International Tracing Service in Arolson, Germany.
There, a search of archives can take up to a year, Mr. Mandel said. The Arolson center has more than 46 million documents containing information about 14 million people.
Since the American clearinghouse opened in Baltimore on Sept. 24, 1990, it has handled 5,000 inquiries about missing relatives and friends and has put 33 people in touch with each other. It has also confirmed 17 deaths.
Manpower for the center is mostly its 55 volunteers, who range in age from 18 to 88. Many of them were on hand to celebrate the center's first anniversary and the reunion yesterday.
After the celebration, the two men went out for lunch with people from the center, then for a quiet visit at Mr. Rosen's home. "That's what life is all about, isn't it?" Mr. Nordon said as he left. "To meet old friends." And then he added, "I hope I find my family. I hope we meet each other in heaven, like this."