In 1942, the world that Jack Waksal and Sam Ron knew as young teenagers in Poland had turned into a living hell. Waksal, who had been born in the village of Jedlinsk, and Ron, who was born just outside of the city of Krakow as Shmuel Rakowski, found themselves as fearful and frail 17-year-old boys, thrown together in a German labor camp in Pionki, Poland shoveling coal side by side.
Both had been sent to this labor camp after spending time in previous concentration camps. They were separated from the rest of their families and, in their mutual circumstances, found a brotherly bond with each other. They spent their days unloading and loading coal. They were hungry, thin, and covered with coal dust all the time. There was very little food and poor sanitation, and, as Waksal says, “It was not unusual to wake up in the morning and someone next to you was dead.”
The Pionki labor camp was dismantled in 1944, and Waksal and Ron, along with the rest of the prisoners, were loaded on cattle cars and sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg, Germany.
Somehow, Waksal was able to escape before entering the concentration camp. He would spend the next eight months surviving in the woods with 15 other Jewish escapees, of whom only six would survive. Ron was held at Sachsenhausen until April of 1945, when the Germans forced Ron and other survivors onto a three-week-long death march. But he and others were liberated by American troops on May 2, 1945.
The last time that Waksal and Ron saw each other was on that cattle car to Sachsenhausen, some 80 years ago. Ron and his parents survived the war and the prison camps. They would move to Palestine in 1946, then to Canton, Ohio, in 1956, where Ron started a successful construction company.
Waksal was the only one in his immediate family that survived the war. His parents and two sisters died at the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland. He spent the next 80 years thinking about his friend and brother, Samuel, and wondering if he survived.
Leap forward from 1943, when they last saw each other, to the present, on March 20, 2022. The occasion was a gala being put on by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. As it turns out, the honorary chair of the event, a now 97-year-old Sam Ron, got up and gave a very moving speech about his own experiences. Waksal, also 97 years old now, was in the audience. As he listened to the speech, the realization that this was his old friend from the labor camp at Pionki, Poland, slowly dawned on him.
When the speech was over, Waksal jumped up out of his seat, ran over to where Ron was sitting, and began to hug him, saying over and over, “You are my brother!” It was a very emotional moment for both old men. When they had last seen each other those 80 years ago, they were just hungry and thin coal-covered teenagers thrust together and attempting to survive one of the cruelest realities of the 20th century. And now, in a moment of pure serendipity, or grace, they found each other as 97-year-old men, in the same country, wearing fine suits and surrounded by their families. There are many ways of expressing joy in life, but this has to be one of the most profound.
We share today our joy that these two men, Jack Waksal and Sam Ron, have so surprisingly had their reunion after these many years and so many miles and life experiences apart. May they enjoy the renewal of their friendship now in a new, unique, and liberated way.Whizzco