Thanksgiving Holocaust Reunion

November 23, 2008 7:13:53 AM PST
A survivor of the holocaust and her rescuer will see each other for the first time in more than 60 years on Thanksgiving in what is sure to be an emotional reunion.The family of Wiktoria Sozanska, of Poland, risked their lives to save the family of Rozia Rothschild, from Israel.

With more on this incredible story is Stanlee Stahl, the executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and holocaust survivor Ursula Seligm who was reunited with her rescuer years ago.

It has been 63 years since Rozia Rothschild of Tivon, Israel, and Wiktoria Sozanska of Wroclaw, Poland, parted ways after the end of World War II. Wiktoria, her mother and five children, devout Catholics, risked their lives to save Rozia and three members of her family who were slated for transport by the Germans to the Sambor ghetto.

Wiktoria's family hid their Jewish neighbors for two years in an underground bunker until the war ended. On Wednesday, November 26th, a reunion between Wiktoria and Rozia will take place at JFK International Airport in New York.

The Holocaust survivor and her rescuer are being reunited by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), which is sponsoring Wiktoria and Rozia's six-day trip.

"I cannot fully express how grateful I am to Wiktoria and her mother Anna. They opened their home and their hearts to me, risking their own lives in order to save me," said Rozia. "Their bravery is what has allowed me to live and build a wonderful family of my own, with three children and four grandchildren. I am so thankful to them and the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous for making this extraordinary reunion possible."

In the fall of 1942 the Jews of Turka (now Ukraine) and the surrounding villages were ordered by the Germans to move into the Samberg ghetto. The Seifert family were among this group of 5,000 Jews who lived in Turka.

The able bodied adults were to hide in a bunker in the woods but children and the infirm would have to go to the ghetto and the family had to sell all their belongings.

When Wiktoria Jaworska came with her mother Anna, a widow with six children, to look at the furniture, her mother saw Rozia and her brother Lucien and wondered what would become of them. When she heard they were going to be sent to the ghetto with her father and aunt who was disabled she said, " We will take care of you. You will come with us."

In the middle of the next night, Wiktoria's brother Mikolaj came to the Siefert home in a hay cart and secreted Rozia, her brother Lucien, her father Mendel and aunt Fanya away, past patrolling Germans, and hid them in an underground bunker in her barn for two years. Each day Wiktoria and her family brought food to the Sieferts and carried away their waste. While the Jaworska family had very little, they shared what they had with Rozia and her family.

There were several close calls. Wiktoria had given her identity documents to a Jewish neighbor and was interrogated by the Gestapo for days, never betraying her neighbor or the Seiferts. Wiktoria was finally released by the Gestapo, when she convinced them that she had not given her identity papers to a Jewess.

In the summer of 1944, as the Soviet army was approaching Turka, the Germans came though the area confiscating animals, taking food, and searching for both deserters and hidden Jews. Wiktoria and her mother moved the Seiferts to the woods, where they lived for two weeks until the region was liberated. Mendel, Fanya, Rozia and Lucien returned to Turka and found devastation.

After the war, Mendel married Fanya and the family moved to the United States. Rozia met an Israeli, they married and moved to Israel, She now goes by the name Shoshanna, which is Hebrew for "rose" - the same as her name in Polish. Wiktoria is in her 80s and lives in Wroclaw, Poland.

The JFR also supports Wiktoria's sister Helena who was too ill to make the trip to New York. A Polish interpreter will be present at JFK to facilitate the reunion.

"In the many years we have worked with survivors and their rescuers, I remain awestruck by the heroism of the thousands of rescuers who risked their lives to save others. By holding true to their values, these individuals saved Jews from certain death," said JFR Executive Vice President Stanlee Stahl. "We owe a great debt of gratitude to these men and women, and through our work, hope to improve their lives and preserve their stories," she added.

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was created in 1986 to provide financial assistance to non-Jews who risked their lives and often the lives of their families to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Today the JFR supports more than 1,200 aged rescuers in 26 countries. The Foundation preserves the legacy of the rescuers through its internationally lauded Holocaust education program for middle and high school teachers and Holocaust center personnel.

Citta di Castello, Italy?1941, in 1935, Paul and Johanna Korn and their daughter, Ursula, fled from Germany to Italy. When Italy entered the war in May 1940, Jews who had come to Italy after 1919 were arrested and interned. Paul was sent to a camp in Salerno while Johanna and Ursula were sent to Collazone. In 1941 they were transferred to Citta di Castello and reunited with Paul. Before they left Collazone a local priest told them to get in touch with Father Beniamino Schivo upon their arrival in Citta di Castello, should they need help.

As Ursula wrote, "Father Schivo became our protector, our one and only best friend... In every way, endangering his own life, he saved our lives, and he did so time and time again... " At his seminary in Citta di Castello, Father Schivo provided shelter, clothing, and food for the family as well as arrangements for Ursula to continue her schooling.

In September 1943, with the beginning of the German occupation in Italy, Father Schivo moved the Korns to a summer villa owned by the Salesian nuns. For a month the Korns hid in the dark with all the windows closed and slept on the bare floor.

As partisan activities and Allied bombings were making the area increasingly unsafe, Father Schivo moved the Korns to a hiding place further into the hills. On Christmas Eve 1943, Father Schivo walked nine hours through German patrols to bring food and comfort to the Korns.

As fighting intensified, Paul Korn joined an Italian partisan unit and Father Schivo took Johanna and Ursula to the Convent of the Sacred Heart back in Citta di Castello. Johanna and Ursula were given habits for disguise and hidden in a locked room. Only the Mother Superior knew of their presence. The Germans came soon after to search the convent and once again Father Schivo came to their rescue. He managed to get Johanna and Ursula out of the convent and to his seminary where he hid them in an upstairs room. Father Schivo was wanted by the Germans and would have been shot immediately if found.

Father Schivo cared for Johanna and Ursula until the British liberated the city on July 14, 1944. Three months later, when his partisan unit and the Allies had secured the zone where they were fighting, Paul Korn returned to Citta di Castello and was reunited with his wife and daughter.

After the war Father Beniamino Schivo was elevated to the rank of Monsignor. He is in his late 90s and still lives in Citta di Castello.


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