An Israeli man and a Polish woman were reunited Wednesday in New York City, seven decades after her Catholic family saved him during the Holocaust.
Michael Hochberg, 77, sat holding hands with Krystyna Jakubowska, 86, at Kennedy Airport, locking eyes as their relatives looked on.
“He was a very pretty boy and he was very good — no problems with him as a child,” she said with a smile, speaking in Polish through a translator. “But I was scared, because the Germans announced on the street what would happen if somebody is saving a Jew.”
The punishment was death.
On Wednesday, Jakubowska flew in from Warsaw to meet Hochberg.
The Polish woman’s family had taken in the boy at age 4 after he was thrown over the wall of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw by a friend to escape from the Nazis, who herded hundreds of thousands of Jews there, many of them then sent to extermination camps.
For two years, the child lived with Jozef and Rozalia Jakubowski — friends of his family — and their son and three daughters including Krystyna, then a teenager. The family made sure no one discovered he was circumcised, a telltale sign he was Jewish; most Christian babies did not undergo the procedure at that time.
Hochberg had escaped just before the 1943 uprising that sent the ghetto up in flames he could see from the balcony of the Jakubowski apartment.
The boy never again saw his parents or grandparents, who all died at the hands of the Nazis. And he could never venture out of the apartment, except at night.
“Very few people helped the Jews,” Hochberg said Wednesday. “In the Jewish tradition, you say, whoever saves one soul saves the whole world.”
Jozef Jakubowski, who fought against the Nazis as a member of the Polish underground, was killed in combat. The rest of the family was forced out of the city into the countryside, taking the boy along.
At the end of the war, “I just hugged everybody, and I had to leave,” said Hochberg, who grew up in a Jewish orphanage in the town of Otwock and eventually moved to Israel, where he had three sons and eight grandchildren.
The survivor and Jakubowska, whose last name is the feminine form of the Polish name Jakubowski, had previously met briefly in Poland in 2006.
Hochberg and his wife live in the Israeli city of Haifa and are spending a month in the U.S. They also plan to visit Las Vegas and Miami.