UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Sixty years after his mother disappeared from the refugee camps of postwar Germany, Sol Factor hopes a vast archive of Nazi documents provides clues that might lead to a reunion, or at least answers.
"That's the big mystery: Why were we separated?" Factor, 60, of Beachwood, said as he set out documents on a table at his temple in suburban Cleveland.
The documents, some from the International Tracing Service archive in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and others from his 16-year search, offer brief glimpses of lives touched by the tumult of a continent emerging from World War II.
Because of privacy concerns, the International Tracing Service has kept the files closed to the public for half a century, doling out strictly limited information to survivors or descendants who could show a need to know. The process should ease sometime next year, after the 11 countries overseeing the archive decided to unseal the files for scholars, victims, and victims' families.
Factor, a former Massachusetts resident, first appealed to the archive in the early 1990s for help locating his mother, but he said officials replied with notes saying nothing had been found but that the search would continue.
After a personal visit in 2002 and the help of a German acquaintance, the archive has provided a half-dozen documents offering tidbits about the life of Factor and his Romanian-born mother. The archive offered no details on Factor's father, who may have died four months after their June 1945 marriage.
Factor was born in Munich in 1946 to Rosa Pollak, also spelled Polak. He speculates that, as a Jewish woman facing extermination in the Holocaust, she might have spent the war in hiding or fighting with resistance guerrilla forces.
The International Tracing Service documents include her refugee registration -- "displaced person" was the term used at the time. Others are refugee camp rosters listing her, and a medical clearance document.
One lists her destination as England, but a tantalizing handwritten notation mentions Palestine, the future home of Israel. "Did she decide for whatever reason to go" there? asked Factor, a retired public school teacher who is married with two grown children.
Born Meier Pollak, he is listed on six International Tracing Service documents. He was adopted by a Belmont, Mass., couple in 1950, and got a new name. His case records were sent to the United States in 1952.
His own research turned up documents showing Rosa Pollak and her newborn son were discharged from a maternity hospital on July 9, 1946, and soon after went to a United Nations-sponsored hospital for refugees in Munich.
Within days they were separated.
"Why didn't she take me when I was born?" Factor asked, imagining the possibility that he was sickly and presented too much risk for her. Wistfully, he mentions seeing photos showing refugees heading to Palestine with babies in their arms.
"Is she alive?" Factor asked, repeating a question. "I can hope she is."
If he identifies his mother and she is still alive -- she would be 82 -- Factor said he would leave it up to her whether they would have a reunion.
"If she wants to meet, fine," he said. "If she doesn't want to, I understand."