Leon Gersten, 79, a Long Island Jewish psychologist who is a Holocaust survivor, was reunited last week with Czeslaw Polziec, 81, whose family had hid Gersten from the Nazis, the NY Post reported.
The two men, who hadn’t seen each other since the war, shook hands and embraced, a few hours before the beginning of Hanukkah at JFK airport.
“I want to tell you that I feel very honored and grateful that you made this effort to take this long trip,” Gersten told Polziec. “It’s not easy for you to come here so we can have the opportunity to honor you and your family.”
“We never forgot the fact that you and your parents are the ones who saved our lives,” Gersten added. “The only reason we are alive is because of you and your family.”
Polziec’s interpreter was crying while translating his response: “I cannot believe it that this actually came true. I am very happy, after 69 years in Poland, finally meeting my friend. We lived in terrible circumstances. Poland was occupied and they [the Nazis] did what they did. They were killing the Jews.”
“This is why our gratitude is so great, because of them. These generations are growing up,” Gersten said. “The Germans did not succeed, and this was our triumph.”
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), which brought the two men together, has been arranging such reunions for 20 years, usually on the day before Thanksgiving. JFR Executive Vice President Stanlee Stahl told JNS.org that while “each year is different, each story is unique,” this year’s reunion at New York’s JFK International Airport carried extra significance due to the historic overlap of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah.
“Hanukkah is the festival of light, and in many ways [Czeslaw Polziec’s] Polish Catholic family brought light into the lives of the Gersten and Wiesenfeld families,” Stahl said.
Gersten currently lives in Cedarhurst, NY, and Czeslaw Polziec lives in Mielec, Poland. The Polziecs hid Gersten and his relatives in their attic during the war while caring for their own five children. Stanislaw Polziec, Czeslaw’s father, was beaten when the family was suspected of hiding Jews, but did not send away Gersten and his family.