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Holocaust survivors reunited after 65 years
Thursday, September 2, 2010
LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 2, 2010, 1:25 AM
BY HOWARD PROSNITZ
STAFF WRITER NorthJersey.com
TEANECK - In 1944 Jack Rosenfeld, then 15, entered the Mauthausen Concentration camp. At the time the Russian army was pressing from the East and the Germans were moving concentration camp inmates.
Before reaching Mauthausen, Rosenfeld was interred along the way in a smaller camp near the Austria Hungary border, having been marched there by the Nazis with hundreds of other Jews. With him were his brother and his boyhood friend from the Hungarian village where he grew up, Imri Meir.
By chance, Meir's father, a physician, was also an inmate at the camp. The day after their arrival, the father came and carried his son away.
That was the last time Rosenfeld saw Meir.
Until Monday, when the two boyhood friends, who attended school and played soccer together, and who last saw each other 65 years ago in a concentration camp, were reunited at Rosenfeld's South Forest Drive home.
The paths to the reunion were convoluted. Rosenfeld had often spoken to his family about his friend and had wondered what became of him. Rosenfeld's 15-year-old grandnephew, hearing the story, decided to do some computer research. Using records from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel, Michael Rosenfeld discovered that Mier, who had changed his first name from Imri and Amram, was alive and living in Toronto. The two old friends spoke on the phone and Meir realized that his son, who lives in Montclair, was a half hour from Rosenfeld's home. Meir promised that the next time he visited his son, he would stop in Teaneck.
About a dozen members of the Rosenfeld family gathered for the reunion.
Rosenfeld, who lived in the Bronx before moving to Teaneck 19 years ago, recalls the forced march, during which he and his brother saved Meir's life. "If you sat down or attempted to drink water from a puddle, they killed you. Most did not reach the concentration camp," Rosenfeld said. Meir could go no farther and attempted to rest. Together, Rosenfeld and his brother carried and pushed Meir for the rest of the march.
The interim camp was so crowded that Rosenfeld spent his first night in a 20- to 50-foot yard that was used as a communal latrine."It didn't matter to me. I was so tired that as soon as I closed my eyes, I fell asleep," he said.
The following day he found out that his family was in the camp.
"A woman from our village recognized me and told me that my mother was there. My mother took us into her tent and washed us. We had not taken a bath in weeks and the lice on us were almost an inch thick. She gave us some water with sugar cubes she had stored away and that revived me a little."
Rosenfeld's family survived the camps. After the war, they returned to Hungary. Then he and his brother made their way to the American zone in Germany. They had initially planned to go to Israel but were denied admission by the British. In 1947, they immigrated to the US. Rosenfeld became an American citizen in 1952 and married an American woman.
Memories of the war and the concentration camps do not bother him, he said.
"I don't think about it anymore. It is water under the bridge."
He even has some understanding of the feelings of people who deny that the Holocaust took place.
"For the ordinary person who lives his day to day life it is impossible to imagine that something like this really happened."
For Meir, the Holocaust remains a bitter memory. He has refused to visit Germany and resists buying German-made products.
After parting with Rosenfeld, his father carried him on another forced march from the small camp.
"We stayed together. When we were liberated, we were all sick, with typhus, with every possible disease. The US Army took us to a hospital in Linz."
Meir's mother and sisters returned to Hungary, but eventually the entire family immigrated, one by one, to Israel, where his father became a successful physician. Meir served in the Israeli army and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Hebrew University.
Michael Rosenfeld, the grandnephew who did the research that united the two old friends, noted that the entire family is listed as dead on Holocaust records.
"People doing the research had figured that all Jews in that Hungarian village had been killed, but that isn't true," he said. "It is a one in a million chance that we all came together and survived," Rosenfeld said.