An Israeli man and a Polish woman were reunited Wednesday in New York, seven decades after her Catholic family saved him during the Holocaust.
Michael Hochberg, 77, sat holding hands with 86-year-old Krystyna Jakubowska at Kennedy International 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 literally thrown over the wall of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw by a friend so as not to fall into the hands of the Nazis who herded hundreds of thousands of Jews there, many of them then sent to an extermination camp.
For two years, the child lived with Rozalia and Jozef Jakubowski — friends of his family — and their son and three daughters including Krystyna, then a teenager. The family made sure no one discovered that he was circumcised, and therefore 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. And he could never venture out of the apartment except at night.
"Very few people helped the Jews," Hochberg said on 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, including the boy, was forced out of the city into the countryside, where the mother died.
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, eventually moving to Israel, where he had three sons and eight grandchildren.
The survivor and Jakubowska had previously met briefly in Poland in 2006. They were brought together in New York by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
Hochberg and his wife live in the Israeli city of Haifa and are now spending a month in the U.S. They also plan to visit Las Vegas and Miami.