A Survivor Speaks

Kate Higgins, 3, of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., pets groundhog Sir Walter Wally, Thursday Feb. 2, 2006, after he saw his shadow during a ceremony at the Bicentennial Plaza in Raleigh, N.C., in front of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
AP Photo/Karen Tam
The whole world watched Pope John Paul II's trip to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, Thursday. Religious and political leaders were on hand to greet the pontiff as he paid homage to the 6 million Jews killed.

Also there were a few people who saw it happen.

A handful of Holocaust survivors met John Paul at the memorial, and as CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey reports, one, an American citizen, said the Pope's visit marked a turning point in the history of the Jewish people—and in his own life.

He was Eli Zborowski.

As a boy, he grew up in the same area of Poland as the pope, but he says he was always considered a Jew—not a Pole.

When the Nazis invaded and began to round up Jews, his family was saved by a family of Poles, the Placzeks, who hid them in their attic.

Zborowski and his mother, brother and sister spent more than two years hiding there—and sometimes in a chicken coop—living in constant fear of betrayal by neighbors of their saviors.

"Ten Jews were hidden in his house," said Zborowski. "We had no food, we ate one piece of bread throughout the day."

"We were not allowed to be sick, we were not allowed to cough, we were not allowed to speak normally," he remembers.

More than 11,000 Gentiles are honored in Yad Vashem's Garden of Righteous Gentiles for saving Jews.

But many Israelis who remember the 6 million Jews who weren't saved feel the pope did not go far enough in his statement at the memorial, in which he expressed great sorrow for anti-Semitism and the Holocaust but did not apologize for what many see as the acquiescence of the Catholic Church during the Nazi reign of terror.

Zborowski himself turned down an offer to meet the pope a few years ago.

Like many Jews, he felt that the Church had not yet atoned for the sins of silence during the Holocaust.

But this time, he agreed. Zborowski says a page was turned at Yad Vashem Thursday. He says he thought of his father during the ceremony.

"I said to [the Pope] in Polish that the Jewish people of the world welcome you, Your Holiness," Zborowski said. He admits he was on the verge of weeping. "I had to bite my lips. I wanted to be, I wanted to stand erect in front of the Pope."

The immensity of the tragedy memorialized at Yad Vashem is sometimes too much even for a survivor, like Zborowski, to understand.

"I wondered more than once, whether this is true, what I lived through,"he said.

But in spite of all the horror, Zborowski says if he had cried Thursday, "I felt my tears would have come out tears of happiness."