Londoner Barbara Kaufman, 81, helped tie together a family mystery linking the Holocaust, the Beatles and an old Free Press article

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Something twigged in Barbara Kaufman’s mind. It had been six years since her husband, Merton, died. Probably 50 years since he’d shown her that photo of the teenage girls.

But something twigged when she got that phone call.

Twin sisters?

Perhaps they’re Merton’s cousins?

In Israel?

This is interesting.

Life was always a little extra interesting for Barbara and Merton. He’d led a band that in the early 1960s played in Liverpool’s now-legendary Cavern Club. A new group, the Beatles, used to open for him.

The family still has the concert posters to prove it.

And they still laugh about the time one of these unknowns, John Lennon, hit on Barbara. She later told him off with a remark Merton always said should “go down in history.”

Life made the Beatles legends. It took the Kaufmans across the Atlantic, to London. Raising a son, Gary. Merton worked in sales.

Life went on. They regaled people with that brush with the early Beatles — the guys who warmed up crowds for Merton’s band.

In fact, in 2004, The Free Press wrote an article about it as the world marked the 40th anniversary of the Fab Four’s introduction to North America.

Merton later got sick and passed away in 2011. Barbara’s health faltered and life slowed down. She’s not well, she’ll tell you.

Gary comes by three times a week to his mom’s downtown condo. He checks in on her. Things aren’t quite as interesting as they once were.

Then, an “odd request.”

Something about two women in Israel. Something about Merton. Something about a photograph.

And this elderly woman, largely housebound, stopped and thought. Something twigged.

Merton Kaufman (Facebook photo)

— — —

Itai Rimon seems like an interesting guy. He’s a Tel Aviv lawyer. Sharp. Right on top of things.

He’s descended from Holocaust survivors. His mom and her twin sister moved with their family to France from Poland in about 1935. The horrors of Adolf Hitler took root soon after and they were left orphans, together and alone.

His mom, now 85, doesn’t say much about it. Her twin sister, Itai’s aunt, is a little more talkative.

At a recent family dinner, the aunt started talking. She mentioned a cousin whose family moved to England in the 1930s. The boy had grown up in Manchester. Merton Kaufman might have been his name.



Merton Kaufman?

This is interesting.

Itai’s fascinated with what he calls the “former life” of his mom and aunt. They were 10 when in 1942 the French police arrested their mother and older sister, both of whom would die in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp.

Their father was already dead. So they were twin girls who became Holocaust orphans, kept in a monastery for the duration of the war. As young adults, they moved to Israel with other orphans in the late ’40s.

“They don’t really talk much about their former life,” Itai says. “Maybe when I was younger, growing up, I didn’t have much curiosity.

“But (now) I’m much more curious. I want to know.”

He tries to collect the details he can. He’d never before heard of this cousin, this Merton from Manchester. How is that possible?

No matter: This is no longer the 1940s. This is the 21st century, where information is easy to find for people who know how to seek it out.

Itai punched the name Merton Kaufman into Google and dug around. He found a Free Press obituary from 2011 for a man by that name who died here in London.

He also found a link to that ’04 Free Press story on Merton and Barbara and the Beatles. Maybe there’s something there.

“I hope I am not too much of a bother but I hope that maybe you can assist me in my odd request,” Itai wrote to The Free Press last month. “I am trying to reach Ms. Barbara Kaufman of London, Canada.

“There is a chance that her late husband is a cousin of my mother and I wanted to explore that possibility.”

He emails a black-and-white photo of two little girls and a little boy. Itai’s family knows it’s his mom and aunt as tots and believe the boy is this long-lost cousin, Merton.

Itai wonders: Could a reporter find Barbara and show her?

The Cavern playbill (Facebook photo)

— — —

Barbara, 81, still laughs at the memory. It’s 1961 or so, backstage at the Cavern Club. This young band of musicians is bothering her.

She sees drummer Pete Best carrying in the drum kit, adorned with the band’s name.

“You spelled ‘Beetles’ wrong,” she tells Lennon.

Lennon tells her no, ‘Beatles’ was intentional. Like the beat of a song. It’s their gimmick, he says.

“John, if you’re good, you don’t need a gimmick,” Barbara replied.

She still laughs about that one. How could you not? Merton always said that line should go down in history.

Anyway, maybe she could recognize her long-gone husband as a toddler. Sure, bring the photograph over — the 1930s-era picture of the boy and his two female cousins.

Then, something twigged.

“She’s not well, physically,” Barbara’s son Gary says. “But her mind — she’s sharp as a tack.”

In storage, she has a suitcase full of old photographs. There must be “a million in there,” she says. She remembers one in particular.

She and her nurse search through it and find one of two teenage girls. It’s signed in French on the back, from “Fanny et Nadine.” Dated Dec. 16, 1945.

Somehow Barbara recalled Merton once telling her about these two sisters, his cousins. She recalled seeing the photograph.

“(I) hadn’t looked at that photo in 50 years,” she said.

Now, back to the early-1930s photo of the little boy and two little girls emailed from Itai in Israel. Barbara looks at it and thinks it might be Merton, sure. But she isn’t exactly bowled over.

Now, however, she has a photograph of her own to email back. The two young women, from 1945.

“Do you recognize these two women?” Itai is asked in an email sent on Barbara’s behalf.

He responds instantly: “(That’s) my mother and her twin. Same girls from the photo I sent you. Wow.”


And maybe you’re a Nigerian prince and this is some weird scam.

“What are their names?” Barbara asks in a prompt email response. “Also, what country did they grow up in?”

That will prove it once and for all. Fanny and Nadine’s names were signed on the back of Barbara’s photo 72 years ago in France.

Itai responds.

“Nadine and Dalia, but (that’s) not their original names,” he writes. “Dalia was (then known as) Fanny. Born in Poland . . . moved to France around 1934.”

So that’s that. This is indeed Fanny and Nadine. This is Merton’s family. This is Itai’s family. They’ve been reconnected.

Someone jokes that Gary, Barbara and Merton’s son, might get himself a free trip to Tel Aviv to meet this inquisitive relative and his dad’s two cousins.

Itai is a little overwhelmed: “This (is) very emotional for me.”

Barbara is sitting upright in bed. She’s smoking a cigarette and smiling after piecing together this new connection for her dear Merton and this relative she’d never heard of.

She looks really happy.

Life can be so interesting sometimes.

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