SKOKIE, Ill. - At 57, when many men are thinking about retiring, Adam Paluch is starting all over again. The former Polish chemist and navigator is studying heating and refrigeration repair at Oakton Community College.
Paluch, however, is undaunted by what might seem to be a career setback. Two years ago, he was in Poland, with no knowledge of his family and unaware that he had a twin sister in the United States from whom he'd been separated during World War II's Holocaust.
"I am like a child again," he said in an interview in the Skokie home he now shares with that sister, Ida Paluch.
Not only has he been reunited with the sister he hadn't seen for 53 years, but the Chicago District Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service has allowed him to stay in the United States and carve out a new future.
"I am a very lucky man," he said, mindful of the usual 10-year wait to get a visa.
It wasn't just luck that brought Adam and Ida Paluch together. It was a half-century of searching for clues in phone books, birth records and relatives' memories.
The search ended two years ago when a grade-school friend from Poland, now living in Connecticut, sent Ida Paluch an article from a Jewish newspaper about a Polish Holocaust victim searching for his family.
Ida Paluch did not recognize the man's name.
But when she saw his photo, she felt as though she were looking into the eyes of her maternal grandfather, Moses. She called the man, Jerzy Dolebski, in Poland and asked him to send a picture of himself without a beard.
Ida Paluch has spent the past two years trying to prove to the U.S. government that Jerzy Dolebski, a man with only a fake birth certificate and no other official record that he exists, really is her brother, Adam Paluch.
"We tried to find a lawyer to help us. They all said it was impossible and refused," said Ida Paluch.
Instead, she received assistance from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and her 7-year-old grandson, who let her use his computer to prepare the INS paperwork.
The family's photo collection helped. Not only does Adam Paluch resemble their mother's father, but one of Paluch's three sons looks exactly like their father.
Ida Paluch does not need scientific or photographic proof that Jerzy Dolebski is really Adam Paluch. She never even considered having DNA tests conducted.
She knows they are twin brother and sister because they had the same nickname as kids: "Thumb-Thumb." Their last name - Paluch - means thumb in Polish.
She knows because they say the same things at the same time.
She knows because they wear the same size shoe - nine, and even wear them down in the same places.
She knows because they both are allergic to iodine and neither of them smokes or drinks.
Their story began on a summer day in 1942 when the Gestapo appeared at the Paluch home in Sosnowiec in southern Poland with orders to take the children. The twins were 3 years old. Their father, Chaim, was off fighting with the Polish Army.
Their mother, Ester, ran down the street, into a building and up the stairs, with the twins racing after her. Ida remembers what happened when her mother got to the second floor.
"She disappeared from the window," said Ida Paluch, recounting her child's eye-view of her mother's suicide.
In the confusion, their Aunt Rose spirited them away. Eventually they went to live with different Catholic families, were given fake birth certificates and new identities.
Adam became Jerzy Dolebski. He remembers nothing of his previous life, but knows he is Jewish.
As a child, he began running away from home, visiting cities throughout Poland, searching for anyone who might know him. As an adult, he dropped his chemist's job and became a ship navigator to enable him to search out Jewish communities from China to South America in the hopes of finding his family.
Meanwhile, Ida Paluch was scouring through every telephone book in every city she visited, looking for any Paluch she could find. Even after immigrating to Israel in 1957 and the United States in 1963, she continued searching.
She had photos of her family, hidden by a cousin in the attic of their home in Poland. In her most cherished photo, the twins are on their mother's knee; their older sister, Gienia, 13, stands in the background, smiling.
The twins have only celebrated two birthdays together since that photo was taken.
"This year, I am looking forward to celebrating the third," Adam Paluch said with a smile.