After 79 years, two men who were friends in a work camp during the Holocaust were unexpectedly reunited.
Jack Waksal and Sam Ron were forced to work as slaves alongside in Poland’s Pionki Labor Camp until the former ran into the forest. Sam was sent to a different camp and eventually released.
Neither knew if the other had survived until Jack attended a luncheon sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in South Florida. Sam was the honorary speaker at the Boca Raton event, which was attended by other Holocaust survivors.
When Jack came and saw Sam, he claimed he believed he recognized him from someplace but couldn’t put his finger on it.
“He was standing to the side,” he recalled. “And I said to somebody, ‘I know this guy.’”
A documentary depicting Sam’s life and the several camps he endured was aired before the event began. His original name was Shmuel Rakowski, and he was stationed in Camp Pionki. That’s when Jack discovered why he seemed so familiar: they were former Pionki camp mates.
Jack hurriedly 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 of the emotional moment.
“Oh, I was all excited,” he recalled. “This was unusual. It’s 79 years now. We’re 97 years old!”
To find someone else who went through exactly what they did was significant.
“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.”
When Jack and Sam started working together in Pionki, they were both adolescents.
“We were pushing coal to the oven to make heat to make power, and Jack said he worked at the same place!” Sam described their time in the camp. “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 also recalled his terror of being picked at random for deportation to Auschwitz concentration camp, as well as the period he went without food for nearly two weeks. To live, people were compelled to consume tree bark.
There were days, Jack claimed, when he had to stay on his feet for 24 hours or risk being shot. He eventually made his way to the woods.
The “worst thing” about the concentration camps, according to Sam, was starvation. During the war, he was interned in five separate camps, including one in Poland.
Both were able to come to the United States, especially to Ohio, where they spent several years before relocating to South Florida. Until that fateful evening, they were completely oblivious of each other’s existence.
Sam makes visits at schools from time to time to share his experiences with the younger generation.
“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.
According to Ari Odzer of NBC News, the two have avenged themselves on Adolf Hitler by living long, wealthy lives, operating enterprises, and enjoying the affection of their families.
“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.”
Sam resides in Boca Raton, whereas Jack lives in Bal Harbour. The long-lost pals are separated by 40 miles, but they are determined to stay in touch. After all, they must have a lot of stories to tell each other, given that their lifetimes span 79 years.
Learn more about this incredible reunion in the video below.