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'It Was Like He Was My Brother': Holocaust Survivors, Once Imprisoned Together, Reunited 80 Years Later

BAL HARBOUR (CBSMIAMI) — Two Holocaust survivors had an unexpected reunion at a South Florida dinner, almost 80 years after being imprisoned together in Poland.

Jack Waksal and Sam Ron attended the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's South Florida Dinner on Sunday.

Ron was one of the dinner's honorary chairs. When speaking at the podium, he mentioned his original name: Shmuel Rakowski. That was a name Waksal immediately recognized.

"When I saw him, it was like he was my brother!" Waksal exclaimed.

"We were pushing coal to the oven to make heat to make power, and Jack said he worked at the same place!" Ron said.

The two were imprisoned at Pionki labor camp in Poland, just teenagers at the time.

"Hard work, bad conditions, cold, hunger," Ron said describing the camp. "Hundreds of people died. It wasn't uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person next to you cold."

To find someone else who went through exactly what they did, they said, carried a special kind of significance.

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

The two have many stories of all they had to endure and witness for nearly six years.

Ron described the fear of the random selection of people who would be sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

He also remembered a time when he had to go without food for more than two weeks. People resorted to eating bark off trees.

Waksal said there were days he had to be on his feet for 24 hours or risk being shot, hauling wheelbarrows full of coal. Eventually, he fled to the forest.

They had both lived in South Florida for decades and never knew it. Ron, who is 98-years-old, lives in Boca Raton. Waksal, age 97, lived in Bal Harbour.

CBS 4 set up a Zoom call between the two, where they could share their stories.

Southeast Regional Director for the museum, Robert Tanen, said this is why their work matters.

"It's so beautiful these connections can still happen today, all these years later," he said.

Ron and Waksal went on to run businesses, raise children, and enjoy loving families. They are forever bound by a deep knowing and understanding of each other's hardship.

"We worked together. We suffered together," Ron said. "It was very much an emotional day, and I hope to keep in touch with him."

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