More than 70 years have passed since Israel Bristman disappeared in Russia.
No family member knew what happened to the Jewish man who escaped Poland and joined the Red Army during the Second World War – until recently, that is, when an unexpected phone call solved the mystery.
Bristman's grandson, also named Israel, received a call at his home in Shoham from a stranger who told him that his grandfather's body had been found. Also found with his remains was his equipment, including a capsule containing a note bearing his name.
"About a month ago I got a phone call from a woman who said she helps find relatives from the Second World War," Bristman told Ynet. "She told me she had acquaintances in St. Petersburg, Russia, who deal with searches, and told me they found where my grandfather, who is my namesake, was killed. All these years I knew my grandfather fought in WWII and disappeared. My relatives assumed he was killed in one of the battles but didn't know where.
"The woman said that in aside a forest near the city of Leningrad, someone found a waterproof capsule with the name 'Bristman' written inside, and that was where they found his remains and the equipment he carried," explained Bristman.
"Several battles occurred in this area during WWII, and the students, I was told, go out there and try to locate soldiers who fell. Many soldiers' remains were not identified. When they manage to identify them, they try to locate their families.
"In my case, the name sounded Jewish so they searched for relatives in Israel. I have the same name, so they reached me. I didn't believe them at first, but ultimately realized that they had indeed found him. They told me he was a commander and my father also always said that.
"My grandfather's body was found at the beginning of May this year, and two days after that he was buried there in a mass grave. They asked me to come and make a special headstone for the grave and offered a medal. It really is moving after so many years."
Bristman said his grandfather was born in Lublin, Poland in 1900. "He had three children – my father was the eldest, but he's no longer among the living," he said.
"My grandfather served in the Polish military in the First World War, was imprisoned by the Germans, and released. With theNazis' rise to power, my grandparents and their three children escaped to Russia. He joined the Red Army and was apparently sent to the front. We knew he was sent to the war, but didn't know where."
History students from St. Petersburg were the ones who found the body. They said that besides the note inside the waterproof capsule, they also found a gas mask, remains of shoes, a gun cartridge, and part of a coat – all carried by the soldier in his final battle.