69 Years Later, Holocaust Survivor Reunites With Savior

Czeslaw Polziec's family hid Leon Gersten's family during WWII
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2013 1:04 PM CST
Czeslaw Polziec, of Poland, center, meets members of Leon Gersten's family in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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(Newser) – An interpreter broke down crying yesterday when he relayed a message from a Holocaust survivor to the Polish man whose family hid him in their attic during World War II—a man he had not seen for almost 70 years. "We never forgot the fact that you and your parents are the ones who saved our lives. The only reason we are alive is because of you and your family," Leon Gersten, 79, told Czeslaw Polziec, 81, both of them fighting against tears of their own. The first words Polziec said upon seeing Gersten at the airport were some of the few English words he knows, the New York Daily News reports: "Hi! Hi! Hi! I am very glad to see you." They'll celebrate Thanksgiving and Hanukkah together, CNN reports.

Gersten, now a Long Island psychologist, was sheltered by Polziec's Catholic family for two years along with other family members including his mother, sister, and his brother-in-law's family. "These generations are growing up" because of the Polziec family, Gersten said, gesturing to his extended family. The Polziecs did not know the Gerstens before the family showed up at their farm seeking shelter, but they went so far as to build an underground bunker, just in case the Gerstens needed to hide there. Polziec's father was even once beaten by suspicious Nazis, the New York Post reports. But the Gerstens "were honest people who just wanted to do the right thing," said Polziec when asked why his parents took them in. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous arranged the reunion, which came on the day before Hanukkah began.

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