Watch CBS News

13-year-old boy, 98-year-old Holocaust survivor strike up friendship as museum volunteers

13-year-old boy, Holocaust survivor develop strong bond as museum volunteers
13-year-old boy, Holocaust survivor develop strong bond as museum volunteers 04:14

SKOKIE, Ill. (CBS) -- Janine and Dhilan come from very different worlds and generations—but know in their hearts that friendship has no limit.

Janine is 98 years old and comes from Lvov, Poland. Dhilan is 13, and comes from Barrington, Illinois. But the pair are not only best of friends—they're colleagues too.

They both volunteer behind the welcome desk at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie—and invited CBS 2 to hang out with them one recent Sunday.

Dhilan started volunteering about a year ago, after the museum hosted a traveling exhibit at his school. Janine's involvement goes very deep, as she is a Holocaust survivor.

When the Nazis came to Janine's town, they took her family to a ghetto. Life in the ghetto was Janine's story—but because of their incredible bond, it is now Dhilan's story too.

"Her father was sent to a work camp. Her father died by suicide. Janine's mother felt it wasn't safe to live in the ghetto anymore, so she sent Janine to work in a field," Dhilan said. "It's still forced labor. It wasn't nearly as bad as the conditions in the ghetto."

Janine sees her story on the walls of the museum.

"My mother, I don't know what happened to her," Janine said as she broke down and cried.

Dhilan sees the pain Janine still carries.

"I feel horrible, because she had to experience this," he said. "To have a friend who has a widely different experience than my own, and that overall has made me a better person."

Janine emphasized the value of being able to tell her story to Dhilan.

"I was able to tell him what I suffered during the war, and he was able to accept it, and he didn't reject it, and I could talk to him," Janine said, "and I think that was very important."


Part of Janine's mission is to tell her story to people who visit the museum.

"You watch the movies. You read the books," said Christian Batallas. "To walk in here today and see Janine is here, it was incredible. I told her it's like, she's a part of history that's still here with us from that time."

Meanwhile back at the desk, the best friends caught up on the week. Dhilan told Janine he had A's in all his classes and was doing well—and he got 100 on a science test.

"I'm not surprised, because I know you're very capable," Janine told Dhilan.

Fellow volunteers say the Janine-Dhilan desk is the place to be.

"They have such a special friendship. Everyone who works here, volunteers here—they see that too," said volunteer Courtney Sturgeon, "and I mean, people have been talking about them, 'Have you seen Janine and Dhilan today?'"

And Janine and Dhilan greatly value each other.

"If you have somebody you can talk to who wants to listen to you, that's pure heaven," said Janine. "It is."

"Janine is a wonderful person who has dedicated her life to telling people her story," Dhilan said, "and she's one of the best persons I've ever met."

Janine said when Dhilan occasionally can't make it to the museum, her Sundays just aren't the same.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center website has more about Janine's story and so many others.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.