There are some circumstances that bind you to another person for life. Being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II is one of them.
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In 1943, Jack Waksal and Sam Ron were both teenagers who’d been sent to Pionki labor camp in Poland. Each day, the young men shoveled endless piles of coal into a furnace for hours on end. It was hot, dirty, exhausting work, and they lived in fear that they’d be killed either by their captors, or by the intense physical toll on their bodies.
“Hard work, bad conditions, cold, hunger,” Sam recalled. “Hundreds of people died. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person next to you cold.”
Jack remembers those awful days with painful clarity as well. There were times that the prisoners weren’t fed for weeks, leading some to try eating bark off trees to sustain themselves. They were frequently held at gunpoint and forced to work for 24 hours at a time. Worse yet, random people would sometimes be rounded up and sent to meet their end at Auschwitz concentration camp.
“It is a miracle how we survived, no question about it,” said Jack.
After a year together, a desperate Jack escaped into the forest, living there for six months in the freezing-cold winter. Sam was later liberated by American soldiers while on a Nazi death march. After narrowly avoiding death, both men moved to the United States to start a new life after the war.
Neither Sam nor Jack knew if the other had survived. Both lived in Ohio for a few years, but their paths didn’t cross. It wasn’t until recently, when the 97 and 98-year-olds both attended the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s South Florida Dinner. Sam, who often travels to schools and community events to educate people on the horrors of the Holocaust, was one of the honorary chairs at the event. As he spoke at the podium, he mentioned his Polish name: Shmuel Rakowski. Suddenly, Jack sat bolt upright.
“When I saw him, it was like he was my brother!” Jack said excitedly. It turns out the two retirees have both lived about 40 minutes away from each other in South Florida for several decades!
Both men felt as if they’d found a long-lost brother after 79 years apart. They feel relieved to know someone who has gone through what they did, and they hope to keep in touch forever.
“I’m so glad that I got somebody [who] was in my camp and working with me together,” Jack said. “Every day, it was so hard.”
“We worked together. We suffered together,” Sam said. “It was very much an emotional day, and I hope to keep in touch with him.”
Sam and Jack are both great-grandfathers who adore their new homeland. What an incredible reunion! We’re so glad these two brothers-in-arms found their way to the only who truly understands their shared history – each other.
Share this story to wish these two survivors well.
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