Friday, November 27, 2009

Holocaust survivor finally reunites with man who protected him in Poland

Body language was the only language Joseph Bonder needed to say "thank you" to Bronislaw Firuta, when the two met at JFK International Airport under the bright light of camera flashes in a media room.

More than 60 years ago, Firuta's family hid Bonder and his sister Joan in their dimly lit attic in the remote village of Ostra Mogila in Nazi-occupied Poland.

At 3:22 p.m. Wednesday, Firuta, a Christian, held Bonder, a Jew, in a long embrace.

Firuta, 82, kissed him and then — in his native Polish — said how remarkable it was that they had survived Hitler and Stalin, saying, according to a translator, "Here we are today."

"I'm numb," said the 81-year-old Bonder, seeing for the first time since 1944 the man who saved his life. Bonder called the embrace, "Indescribable. There are no words for it."

Asked if Firuta looked different, Bonder laughed and said he did. "I don't look the same, either," he said.

Firuta exchanged hugs with Bonder's three children and five of his seven grandchildren who attended the reunion. In the European custom, he kissed all the descendants of Bonder, who owe their lives to a man they were meeting for the first time.

This was the first time Firuta visited the United States. He came following twin tragedies in October, when his wife died and his house was destroyed in a fire.

The emotional meeting at the airport Wednesday was arranged by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.

The Firuta family allowed Bonder and his sister to sleep in their attic and in their barn, while lying to Nazi soldiers looking to capture and murder Jews.

Bonder recalled spending a cold winter in the Firutas' barn, sleeping next to a cow for warmth, and hiding in hay when soldiers searched for him. (MyCentralJersey)

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