It was a tearful reunion as Shoshana Golan, 76, a Holocaust survivor, saw for the first time in nearly seven decades the woman whose family had saved her from the Nazis by passing her off as one of their own.
Golan, who is originally from Poland, and now lives in Israel, was reunited with Wladyslawa Slotwinska-Dudziak, 85, on Wednesday at JFK Airport. They had not seen each other in over 67 years.
Golan presented Dudziak with a bouquet of flowers and the two women quickly began talking to each other in Polish, anxious to catch up on old times. For Golan, it made for a momentous pre-Thanksgiving event, and she was grateful for the opportunity.
The meeting was made possible by the efforts of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, a nonprofit organization dedicated to identifying, honoring and financially supporting non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Golan’s story of survival began in 1942 in Lublin, Poland, when she was known as Rozia Bejman. Her mother Sara Bejman, asked friend Wanda Dudziak to look after the then 6-year-old for a few weeks.
“It was a hard time,” Golan said. “There was a lot of danger. I was afraid the Germans were going to pick me up and kill me. I had to think about the family who was protecting me, and not to put them in danger.”
It was hard for her to try and hide the terrible fear she had of being captured when German soldiers were around, but she managed to do it anyway. And she said she is thankful to Dudziak and her family for risking their safety to protect her.
After Golan’s parents died in a concentration camp, the Dudziaks continued to look after the little girl, passing her off as a relative and a Catholic. Wanda’s youngest sister, Wladyslawa, was closest in age to Golan and had the most responsibility for caring for her.
“I felt that she was left again, alone, and we had to help,” Dudziak said through a translator. “We knew her parents. We loved them. God was with us. It was difficult for us to survive, but we made it.”
Golan stayed with the family even after Lublin was liberated in July 1944. When it came time to leave, Golan felt devastated. She immigrated to Israel, and for many years corresponded with Dudziak, whom she considered her sister.
Golan, who has four children and three grandchildren, said she has thought about returning to Poland for a visit, but the memories of that time remain too painful and she can’t bring herself to make the trip. At the meeting, Dudziak, who had never been on a plane prior to this trip, said her door is always open.
“I am happy to have one more chance in life to hug Shoshana,” Dudziak said. “I am too old to travel, but I’m here today.”
The two women were to spend 10 days together in New York, having Thanksgiving dinner at the Westchester home of Agnieska Perzan, a staffer and translator with the Jewish Foundation.
“It’s very exciting,” Golan said of the reunion. “We are different people than we used to be.”