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Jewish Survivor Meets his Polish Rescuer at JFK

The interpreter was crying while translating the Polish rescuer's response.
Leon Gersten (wearing a yarmulke) embracing Czeslaw Polziec and giving him a bouquet of flowers.

Leon Gersten (wearing a yarmulke) embracing Czeslaw Polziec and giving him a bouquet of flowers.
Photo Credit: Screen shot

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.

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17 Responses to “Jewish Survivor Meets his Polish Rescuer at JFK”

  1. Maude says:

    Beautiful story.

  2. Leo Erwin says:

    NOT ONLY JEWS WERE KILLED….BUT MILLIONS OF OTHERS…AND I RESENT THE REMARK…REFERRING TO ONLY JEWS WERE KILLED…I KNOW NON JEWISH FAMILIES THAT HAD MEMBERS KILLED BECAUSE THEY HIDE A JEW AND ALSO, BECAUSE OF BEING HOMOSEXUAL, AND A GYPSIE FAMILY AS WELL. ALL SUFFERED…US JEWS DID NOT SUFFER ALONE….WE NEED TO ALSO REMEMBER ALL , ALL, OF THEM….IT WAS A TIME OF HORROR…FOR ALL…..

  3. Anonymous says:

    Yes, only Jews were killed because they were Jews, so what is your problem .

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yhmmm….. Poles were killed because they were Poles, Hungarians because they were Hungarians … sub-human almost all Jews killed were of Polish nationality they were therefore Poles. Germs really didn't care they wanted you dead and that's it on the street, in the Ghetto or concentration camp. Helping anyone wanted by Germs meant death and tortures. Watch Shindler's list .. those killed on the streets outside Gettho were Poles standing in the line to conserve bullets random people rounded on the street. Jews cannot hijack that and just say about Holocaust. It was entire Poland that was occupied, tortured, killed and terrorized.

  5. This is the most wonderful story!!!

  6. Dennis R. Laffer says:

    It is wrong to state that Jews were the only victims of mass murder. However, many Christian Poles shared the anti-Semitism of the Germans and killed or betrayed Polish Jews. Jews were killed by Poles after the war. On the other hand, there were Jews who were rescued and hidden by non-Jewish Poles at great personal risk. Jews may have been born within Poland and resided for many years but the predominant Polish attitude was that they did not belong to the Polish nation.

  7. Richard Sandler says:

    wholenewstrain, that was a very silly answer…sorry you don't recognize the Shoah for what it was.

  8. Richard Sandler says:

    Nobody said that only Jews were killed you anti-Semitic idiot. However, may I add that for every good Pole that risked their lives to save Jews there were ten that walked hand and hand with the Nazis in capitulating in the Holocaust.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Richard Sandler – Sorry you don't recognize German aggression for what it really was. Very childish of you Germs wanted all -sub human dead not ony Jews. And Poles and others also died in concentration camps. Learn history …

  10. Anonymous says:

    Dennis R. Laffer – Yeah right you know that … you were there and helped Jews like those Poles … yeah .. we believe you. Poles were no more or less anti-semitic as Americans today. Millions and millions of poles were married to Jews in the middle of europe where other nations would despise Jews at that time thats the reason why there were so many Jews in Poland like today in the US. thing you are mentioning are mostly people who corroborated with Germs called VolksDeutch ant there were death sentences for such people frequently executed by Polish underground army. They were not only denunciation Jews but also other Poles and reporting anything of use to Germs. People who were guards in concentration camps were Ukrainians which were ally of Nazi Germany. Pathetic discussion by people who have no idea about the subject. Who is the most righteous among nations folks? This has to end equalizing victims with oppressors just because America, American Jews and resto of the world did absolutely nothing to stop that … until there were millions and millions of victims.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Richard Sandler – Wow, you are anti-polish clearly and don't know what you are talking. Thats a Holocaust lie and you can go to jail for this. Germans did the Holocaust with the help of Ukrainians and what you are talking is anti-polish 100%. Stop doing that and get history lessons. Plus stop calling others anti-semitic without reason that just gives away you have no arguments and your IQ test came back negative.

  12. God is a God miracles. Praise Him..

  13. Dennis R. Laffer says:

    wholenewstrain Your knowledge of Jewish history in Poland during the 1930s and 40s is extremely limited or unbelievably naive. You can disagree as much as you want with my statement but if you bothered to do the research you would recognize its historical accuracy.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Avraham Tauby – The historian wants to make his name by going to "personal level" very nice and dandy. Every nation is anti-semitic, anti-american, anti-polish, anti-german, anti-muslim on the "personal level". Big discovery – every country has plenty of freaks.
    Do you guys go on a "personal level" with Germans? How many more freaks were in Germany at that time? 1% ? 2%? or maybe just maybe 1000000%? Why dont you hate Germans 10000% more than Poles? I encourage you go personal in that direction.
    Author clearly states in your face there is most righteous among nations on all the globe try to remember that. As far as Holocaust goes it is a huge disgrace to the German nation as is all the World War II. It was a state ordered genocide and I personally wold place few A-Bombs for what they did here and there in Germany at that time.
    Now to the numbers: Poles killed under pccupation 5.8millions (including 3millions of Polish Jews). Now Polis and Jewish populations were intermixed with marriages kids famillies. You can't just say War World II was only Holocaust.
    There were roughly as many Poles killed as Jews 2.8million Poles vs 3million Jews (talking about polish population). What you are trying to say here is that only Jews were killed because they were Jews. I tell you Poles were killed as often as Jews just because they were Poles.
    16% of Polish population were gone. Try that for your anti-semitism the country was ultimatley terrorized, tortured and exterminated.
    Now you are saying some Poles preffered that others like Jews to be killed instead of themselves you call it anti-semitism I call it survival and challenge you to sacrifice yourself for others like many Poles did.
    Talk is cheap. America, american Jews whole Europe did not even blink during Holocaust try to go on a "personal level" there. Poles have same right to be remembered as Holocaust Jews is that a problem for you?

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