Jack Waksal and Sam Ron were prisoners at a labor camp. The Holocaust saw both men endure slave labor in the Pionki Labor Camp in Poland. Waksal was able to escape by fleeing into the forest while Sam was moved into a different camp.Sam was eventually freed. It’s a reunion 79 years in the making.
Waksal and Ron never knew what happened to each other.A dinner in South Florida hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum saw Sam as the honorary speaker. Jack was at the event held in Boca Raton.Other Holocaust survivors were also in attendance.
Jack saw Sam and he thought he recognized him but just couldn’t remember.
“He was standing to the side,” he recalled. “And I said to somebody, ‘I know this guy.’”
The event soon played a video about Sam’s life. Camp Pionki was included with his original name Shmuel Rakowski revealed. Jack finally made the connection.
Jack went over to Sam’s table and said, “Sam! You are alive!”
“This one guy jumped out from the house and came over to kiss me. ‘You’re my brother! You’re my brother!’” Sam said.
“Oh, I was all excited,” he recalled. “This was unusual. It’s 79 years now. We’re 97 years old!”
“What we went through in our life is so hard to describe,” Jack explained. “There are not many more survivors left. We are just a few survivors.”
Jack and Sam were teenagers in Pionki.
“We were pushing coal to the oven to make heat to make power, and Jack said he worked at the same place!” Sam narrated.
“Hard work, bad conditions, cold, hunger, hundreds of people died. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person next to you cold.”
He then recalled how terrifying it was to know that being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp was very real. He went without food for 2 weeks and others ate the bark off trees to survive.
Jack recalled being on his feet 24 hours for days just to avoid being shot.
According to Sam, hunger was the “worst thing”. He survived 5 different camps including the one in Poland.
Jack and Sam immigrated to the United States. Both men lived in Ohio before moving to South Florida. They never knew what happened to each other until that night.
Sam visits schools when invited where he shares his experiences with students.
“I try to teach them not to hate, and to have a lot of hope and believe in yourself, this is what I did, this is how I survived because I believe in myself,” he said.
“It’s an amazing story. I was so taken by this,” Sam said of their reunion. “It got me a lot of hope. I was very excited about it.”
“You think it’s never going to happen,” Jack said. “But it did happen.”
Jack now lives in Bal Harbour. Sam lives in Boca Raton. 40 miles apart is nothing to these men who experienced the horrors of war. They are determined to stay in touch.
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