Leader Blues

Friday, July 11, 2008

TOP STORY > >Siblings finally meet after 50 years apart

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Separated for 50 years and a continent away, Tommy Tompkins of Cabot met his German sister, Sonja Lefevre-Burgdorf, for the first time last September in Germany. She reciprocated with a visit to Cabot last weekend.

“Only God could have orchestrated this,” said Tompkins, an information technologist.

Born in 1957 in Ansbach, Ger-many, Tompkins was originally named Karl Heinz Probst by Anna Opitz, his birth mother.

Less than a week after his birth, Tompkins was adopted by Betty and the late Ed Tompkins of Jacksonville. Ed Tompkins was with the Army stationed in Germany with his family. They moved back to the United States when Tommy was nine months old.

Tompkins knew he was adopted and said he wondered if he had any brothers or sisters.

Burgdorf was 4 years old when Tompkins was born. She never saw Tommy, but said she knew her mom was going to the hospital to give birth. When her mother came home after her stay, Burgdorf was told he had gone to America.

“I knew there was a birth. I carried a doll and told everyone it was my little brother,” Burgdorf said.

When she was growing up, Burgdorf said she couldn’t talk a lot about her brother with her mother.

Burgdorf said her mother worked hard for little money at a farm across from an Army base in Ansbach. Burgdorf’s parents met when her mother was 20 and her father was 47. Burgdorf’s father, a Belgian, worked for the U.S. Army in shipping and logistics. Burgdorf said they were together for five years until she was born. He left and went to France.

Opitz was a single parent when she was caring for Burgdorf and gave birth to Tompkins, who was fathered by an American serviceman in the Army stationed in Ansbach. While Opitz was in her pregnancy, the serviceman requested a transfer to move to another base in Germany.

Burgdorf, who works as an administrator for the European Union parliament in Luxembourg, said she started in the 1990’s trying to find information about her younger brother. She went to a local parliament office in Ansbach where the address of
Tompkins’ adoptive parents was still on file. Since she was a sibling, she was given the information.

With the information, Burgdorf got in touch with a German woman living in Sante Fe, N.M., who helps individuals reconnect to their adoptive families.

In 2007, Burgdorf’s mother, Anna, was turning 80 and Burgdorf decided it was time to contact Tompkins. Burgdorf’s husband, Joachim, was searching the Tompkins name on the Internet and found a phone number for Tammy Tompkins of Doug Wilkinson Realty.

“I always dreamed to visit the town where I was born,” said Tommy Tompkins.

Last year, Jim and Marcia Dornblaser of Jacksonville were going to Germany with a group of four couples.

Of the scheduled places to visit were Cochem on the Mosel River, to see the Alps and the Black Forest, and to stop at Trier, the oldest city in Germany.

Earlier that same day, at her office at Doug Wilkinson Realty, Tammy Tompkins, Tommy’s wife, had received a call from Burgdorf to inquire if it would be appropriate to send a letter to Tommy. Burgdorf had written the letter beforehand and it arrived two weeks later.

“I was overwhelmed with her ability to communicate her feelings and thoughts. I knew then we had to meet,” said Tommy Tompkins.

Tompkins and Burgdorf soon started emailing and calling each other. Tompkins learned that Burgdorf and her husband lived in the village of Tawern, near the French border.

The group arrived in Frankfurt and the next day, they drove to Burgdorf’s house.

Burgdorf had posted welcome signs along the route to the village. “It was such an incredible feeling. It’s hard to describe. With our friends we had a great celebration for several hours,” said Tompkins.

Later the same day, Tompkins with his wife and Burgdorf went to visit their birth mother, Anna Opitz. at her apartment for seniors in Trier. Burgdorf said, “I wanted (Tommy) to meet her for herself and not for me.”

Opitz speaks only German. When she met Tommy, she said to him in English, “Don’t be mad at me.”

Since reuniting, Tompkins said his three children have been ecstatic after learning about having an Aunt Sonja.

“We talk every Saturday,” Tompkins said. “We’ve bridged the water and are consistent in our relation.”
This past week Burgdorf flew to the United States for her first time, visiting New York for a week before spending several days with Tompkins and his family.