It has been 64 years since Joseph Bonder and Bronislaw Firuta parted ways in Poland after the end of World War II. Bronislaw and his family risked their lives to save Joseph and his sister, Joan, who escaped from the infamous Skalat Ghetto.
Bronsilaw's family hid Joseph and Joan in their home and later in the woods near their house when it became too dangerous from the fall of 1942 until 1944. On Wednesday, Nov. 25th, a reunion between Bronislaw and Joseph, who now lives in Monroe Township will take place at JFK International Airport in New York.
"I cannot fully express how grateful I am to Bronislaw and his family. They opened their home and their hearts to my sister and I, risking their own lives in order to save me," said Joseph. "Their bravery is what has allowed me to live. I am so thankful to them and The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous for making this extraordinary reunion possible."
Joseph and Joan Bonder were teenagers when they were rescued by the Firutas. In the spring and summertime, they hid in the straw, and in the winter remained hidden in the barn and inside the house. The Firutas provided not only shelter and food, but also friendship and hope.
When the situation became too dangerous to remain at the Firuta home, the Bonders would go to the nearby woods. At nighttime, they returned to the Firutas' house where they spent the night and returned to the forest before sunrise. While hiding in the woods, the Bonders met a group of forty-two Jews hiding in bunkers.
The leader of the group was working with the Russian partisans. Both the partisans and the Jewish group needed a carrier to distribute guns. Young Bronislaw took that job and often times Joseph assisted him in smuggling weapons.
In 1944, they were liberated by the Soviet army. Joseph and Joan's parents were killed in the Skalat ghetto and buried in the mass grave outside of town. The rest of the Bonder family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — perished. Thanks to the Firutas and their courage, Joseph and Joan survived. After the war, both Joseph and Joan moved to the United States. Joan passed away in 1992. Joseph lives in New Jersey and Bronislaw lives in Lubin, Poland.
The Holocaust survivor and his rescuer are being reunited by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), which is sponsoring Bronislaw's six-day trip. His son, Stansilaw, will be joining him.
"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 Jews. 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 noble men and women, and through our work, hope to enable them to live the remainder of their lives with dignity and to 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 1,000 aged rescuers in 23 countries.
— ANDY LAGOMARSINO, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM