One of my many regrets in life that keeps me up many a night is that I didn't find out that my great uncle survived the Holocaust until after my grandfather died. It's one of those extremely stupid regrets, because honestly, there was really nothing that I could have done differently. I think that's why it vexes me so. My grandfather died in 1995. The internet sort of existed back then, but not in the extensive way that it enables every facet of my research today. I had an email account through college that was run on the pine system. I knew that AOL and prodigy enabled people to chat. This was very exciting. It was also pretty much it.
At the end of 2004, when there was much more internet to the internet, it occurred to me to email Yad Vashem to look into their database and see if they could find any of my grandfather's relatives with the bare information I had. Nowadays, the database is fully searchable online. But in those days, I waited for a response. When they found a record on my great grandmother and cousin, who perished, filed by my grandfather's brother-in-law, who did not perish as I had thought he had, I was blown away.
I was also immediately angry with myself. Why had I not thought, as a 13 year old or 14 year old or 15 year old (etc), to write to this Holocaust museum? Clearly paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps existed at the time. I could have learned, while my grandpa was alive, that he had a surviving relative.
Of course, without the internet, I also could not have found this man (or rather, his family, since he passed away in the 1980s - one thing I am not angry at myself for, since clearly I was not going to write Yad Vashem when I was four years old). Yad Vashem, for reasons that I cannot understand at all, does not really collect people's addresses to reunite family. So I had to google (or netscape - whatever) the guy's last name. Fortunately, it was very unusual, and I found his great niece very quickly.
Clearly, my dream to reunite my grandfather with some magical surviving relative could not have happened before he died because the internet was the thing that stood between me and this goal. The internet was ten years too late. I know I should not regret this, and it is useless to do so, but I do anyway.
As I found out in 2012, his brother-in-law was not just his brother-in-law. He has also some sort of distant (or maybe not so distant - that is still a mystery) cousin. I never had a chance to reunite them, but his nieces are also cousins. Instead of being alone, he could have spoken to these women and felt the warmth of blood relatives again.
The other reason I should not regret this is that I don't know what would have happened if I found his distant cousins and told him. Would he have handled the news well, rejoicing? Or at that late stage in life, would I have only caused him more pain? Obviously I would not want the latter. Sometimes things happen for a reason, and maybe I was thwarted in my dream of finding a relative because in the end it would have hurt him more.
Sometimes I wonder if he knew that his brother-in-law was out there. My dad said that he had heard a rumor about him, and asked some friends who were traveling to Paris to find out what happened to him. (The brother-in-law had gone to Paris after the war, then to Israel, though the rumor ended in Paris.) Supposedly the friends didn't find him or his nephew, which is hard to believe because I'm pretty sure that phone books existed in the 1960s, and there was probably only one person with that last name. So either the friends were assholes and never even bothered to look, or they found the nephew and for some reason, my grandfather let the connection go.
The truth is, I don't understand why my grandfather never wrote to Yad Vashem. Or maybe he did, too soon, sort of like how the internet didn't come for me in time. His brother-in-law filed the paperwork in 1953. If my grandfather inquired in 1951, say, they might have said, "Sorry, no Rajsmans on file," and maybe that was that.
I also don't understand why he never filed pages of testimony on his sisters. Was it because he never really knew what happened to them, and didn't want to create a false record? Or could he not confront the fact that they were gone, and in doing so, let them be lost forever. If he had filed some paperwork, perhaps his brother-in-law could have found him.
When my grandfather was gone, so was his past. Perhaps my silly regret, since I could not control the circumstances that led to the late discoveries, is a different regret, not one that involves him. Perhaps what I really regret is that I will never have the answers as to who they were.