World War II survivors who became best friends at labor camp unexpectedly reunite after 79 years

Two men who became close friends in a labor camp during World War II were unexpectedly reunited after 79years.

Jack Waksal was a slave laborer in the Pionki Labor Camp in Poland. Sam Ron was separated from Jack Waksal when the former fled into a forest. Sam was eventually released after being moved to another camp.

Sam Ron and Jack Waksal meeting during a dinner organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Jack was the honorary speaker at the dinner hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in South Florida. Jack didn’t know if either had survived. Sam was the honorary speaker at the Boca Raton event, where there were also Holocaust survivors.

When he arrived and saw Sam, Jack said that he thought he knew him from somewhere but couldn’t place it.

“He was standing to the side,” he recalled. “And I said to somebody, ‘I know this guy.’”

Jack Waksal in an interview with WPBF 35 News
Jack Waksal | WPBF

When the event started, a video about Sam’s life and the many camps he survived was shown. It stated that he was at Camp Pionki, and that his original name is Shmuel Rakowski. That’s when Jack finally realized why he looked so familiar—they were old camp comrades in Pionki.

Jack hurriedly went over to Sam’s table and said, “Sam! You are alive!”

“This one guy jumped out from the house and came over to kiss me. ‘You’re my brother! You’re my brother!’” Sam said of the emotional moment.

“Oh, I was all excited,” he recalled. “This was unusual. It’s 79 years now. We’re 97 years old!”

It was important that someone else went through what they went through.

Sam Ron in an interview with WPBF 35 News
Sam Ron | WPBF

“What we went through in our life is so hard to describe,” Jack explained. “There are not many more survivors left. We are just a few survivors.”

Jack and Sam were still teenagers when Sam worked in Pionki.

“We were pushing coal to the oven to make heat to make power, and Jack said he worked at the same place!” Sam described their time in the camp. “Hard work, bad conditions, cold, hunger, hundreds of people died. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person next to you cold.”

He also recalled the fear of being randomly chosen to be sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, and the time he was left without food for more than two weeks. To survive, people were forced to eat bark from trees.

Men in the Dachau concentration camp during the Holocaust

Jack said that there were days when Jack had to be up for 24 hours in order to avoid being shot. He eventually fled to the forest.

Sam said hunger was the “worst thing” at the concentration camps. He survived five camps, including one in Poland, during World War II.

Both managed to immigrate into the United States, specifically Ohio. There they lived for many more years before moving to South Florida. They were unaware of each other’s existence until that fateful dinner.

Sam makes occasional school visits to share his experiences with the younger generations.

“I try to teach them not to hate, and to have a lot of hope and believe in yourself, this is what I did, this is how I survived because I believe in myself,” he said.

Sam Ron and Jack Waksal meeting during a dinner organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Ari Odzer, a NBC journalist, said that the couple have vengeanced Adolf Hitler by living long, productive lives, running successful businesses, and enjoying their love of their families.

“It’s an amazing story. I was so taken by this,” Sam said of their reunion. “It got me a lot of hope. I was very excited about it.”

“You think it’s never going to happen,” Jack said. “But it did happen.”

Jack lives in Bal Harbour, while Sam lives in Boca Raton. The long-lost friendships are 40 miles apart, but they are determined to stay in touch. After all, they surely have a lot of stories to tell each other—all spanning 79 years of their lives.

Watch the video to learn more about this amazing reunion. 

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