When Cherie Rosenstein penned her essay about being a 5-year-old orphan fleeing war-torn Europe for a new life in America, she probably couldn't have imagined that the story would reunite her with the woman whose passport secured her entry into the United States 62 years ago. But that's exactly what happened.
In 2007, Rosenstein, whose parents both perished in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote about her childhood experiences for the Dayton Jewish Observer. Her name as a child was Maria Helena Chuchnowicz, and in April 1947, she was living in an orphanage in Paris. As Rosenstein put it, "The war's end brought problems of staggering proportions: thousands of Jewish survivors with no homes, families or money." The Rev. Samuel Schmidt of Cincinnati visited the orphanage and returned to the States with photographs of the facility and the children it sheltered. A local couple -- Libby and John Moskowitz -- saw a picture of Rosenstein and decided to adopt her.
That launched what Rosenstein dubs "Operation America": the plot to get her out of France and into the United States. Officials moved her from the orphanage to the home of a Frenchwoman, Eleanor Bohne-Hene. During her brief stay there, Rosenstein befriended Bohne-Hene's daughters, Monique and Catherine. The family began calling her "Cherie," French for "dear" -- a name that would become permanent.
The next phase of the plan was for Bohne-Hene to take Rosenstein to the United States -- but America's quota system blocked Rosenstein. So the little girl posed as Monique Bohne-Hene, her hair bleached blond to resemble Monique's passport photo.
She boarded what she recalls as a "monstrous bird of steel," which deposited her in her new home in Ohio. There, the Moskowitz family taught her to speak English and worked to get her legally recognized.
Near the end of her essay, Rosenstein writes about some of the questions that still haunt her: "How did I get separated from my natural parents? Did they entrust me to strangers to ensure my survival? How did I get to the orphanage? Are there brothers and sisters or other relatives? Where are Mrs. Bohne-Hene, Monique, Catherine and the children of the orphanage today? I know I must find out the answers."
Fast-forward to the present day.
Last week, Monique Valvot -- the former Monique Bohne-Hene -- and her husband visited a Jewish museum in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood during a vacation in New York. A French rabbi named Levy Goldberg overheard the couple speaking in their native tongue, and he approached and introduced himself. As they spoke, Monique Valvot brought up the story of the little Polish Jewish girl who had stayed with her family after the war before immigrating to the United States.
Goldberg enlisted a friend to help him try to find information about the girl on the Web. That led soon enough to Rosenstein's article in the Dayton Jewish Observer, and the rabbi and his associate sent messages to Rosenstein and her son on Facebook.
And so it came to pass that Thursday, Cherie Rosenstein and Monique Valvot were reunited at the Dayton International Airport.
"You shared your room with me," Rosenstein told Valvot as the two embraced.
When The Upshot contacted the Rosensteins about the story, Cherie's husband, Stu, said that she had been worn out discussing the events of the past several days. He explained that the reunion represented the fruition of a decades-long quest.
"Cherie has been trying to find Monique for years, and vice versa," he said, "but nobody could put it together."
He said that Monique Valvot and her husband were only able to stay in Dayton for one day -- but that he and his wife have already made plans to spend five days with the couple at their chalet in the French Alps next summer.
When we asked how the recent revelations were affecting both his wife and himself, he said, "There's just no words."
(Photo courtesy of Cherie Rosenstein)