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News and Events
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November 25, 2005
Jewish Holocaust Survivor Is Reunited with Her Christian Rescuer For First Time Since 1944

Ruth.Gruener.1940s.jpg Ruth Gamzer Gruener as a Child

Sixty-one years ago, Ruth Gamzer Gruener was eight years old and living in Lvov, Poland (now part of Ukraine). For eight months, during the Holocaust, Joanna Szcygiel Zalucka's parents allowed Ruth to hide in their daughter's bedroom, behind Joanna's trunk or under her bed. As a result of the Szcygiels care, Ruth survived the Holocaust. In 1953, Ruth and her parents moved to Brooklyn. Ruth and Joanna did not see each other again until Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005.

Thanks to the Manhattan-based Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, Gruener and Zalucka were reunited for the first time since 1944.

Joanna, 82, of Wroclaw, Poland met Ruth at JFK International airport in New York on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. The two women, who share an extraordinary bond, will both be honored at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Tuesday, November 29th.

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Ruth.Gruebner.11.2005.jpg Ruth Gruener, November 2005 Photo by Charles Eckert

Upon meeting Joanna again Ruth sobbed.

Gruener said, "It is just so wonderful that no words can describe how I feel."

Zalucka called it a miracle. It was a miracle that Gruener survived.

Barbara.Ruth.Isaac.Gamzer.jpg Ruth with her late parents Barbara & Isaac Gamzer Photo courtesy Ruth Gamzer Gruener

Gruener and her parents were the only ones from an extended family of 300 who survived the Holocaust.

On November 8th 1941, the Germans ordered the establishment of a ghetto in Lvov. This was a signal to Ruth's parents, Barbara and Isaac Gamzer, that their situation was dire.

Deportations had begun. Children were often among those targeted.

Joanna's father and mother agreed to hide Isaac and Barbara's daughter. The Szcygiels also had two other daughters, Maria and Helena, to care for, in addition to Joanna and Ruth.

Ruth.Gruener.Holocaust.Surv.jpg Ruth Gamzer Gruener

Mr. and Mrs. Gruener placed their daughter in the Zalucka's Christian home because they feared the Nazis would deport or kill their daughter.

Every day for eight months, the Szygiels risked their lives to protect and ultimately save Ruth.

Twice during Ruth's hiding at the Szcygiels she was nearly discovered. Joanna's sisters both had boyfriends who supported the Nazis. On a number of occasions, these men came close to meeting Ruth in the Szygiel's apartment.

Joanna took special care of Gruener. She bathed Ruth, combed her hair and helped teach her how to read and write.

After eight months, Ruth went to the home of another Christian family. At the Ojaks' home Ruth went into hiding with her parents. For the next two years, Joanna brought food to the Ojaks. When the Soviet Army liberated Lvov in July 1944, the Grueners came out of hiding.

Ruth spent so much time immobilized that she had to relearn how to walk normally.

After the war, Ruth and her family went to Munich, Germany. From Germany they moved to Brooklyn.

Over the years, Ruth and Joanna have corresponded but the pair has never met. In 1953, Joanna shared in the joy of Ruth's marriage to another Holocaust survivor, Jack Gruener. Jack Gruener survived 10 Nazi concentration camps.

Joanna took pleasure in learning that Ruth and Jack had two sons together. The couple now has four grandchildren.

Today, it is also a miracle that the two women have lived long enough to be reunited.

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous hosted Joanna's trip to New York to be reunited with her surrogate sister.

Yesterday, Gruebner hosted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the woman to whom she owes her life.

Gruebner said:

I cannot fully express how grateful I am to Joanna and her family.

They opened their hearts and home to me, knowing that if they were caught, they would be killed as well.

The generosity and bravery that people like Joanna and her family displayed during the Holocaust is what have allowed me to live and build a wonderful family of my own.

I am so thankful to hear and The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous for making this special reunion possible.

Zalucka will spend the next two weeks in New York with Gruener and her family.

Ruth.Gruener.11.05.jpg Ruth Gruener (r) with Her Rescuer, 11.05

AP Photographer Shiho Fukada captured a touching moment when Zalucka, now 81, and Gruener, now 72, were reunited on November 23rd.

JFR Executive Vice President Stanlee Joyce Stahl said:

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 others.

By holding true to their values, these individuals saved Jews from certain death.

About The Jewish Foundation for The Righteous

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was created in 1986 by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis to provide financial assistance to non-Jews who risked their lives and often the lives of their families to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

The JFR was established to fulfill the traditional Jewish commitment to hakarat hatov, the searching out and recognition of goodness.

Today, the JFR cares for nearly 1,500 aged and needy rescuers in 27 countries. The organization strives to correspond with rescuers in twenty languages. (If you read and write Albanian, Armenian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Moldovian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovakian, Swedish, Ukrainian -- or all of the above and are interested in becoming a translator -- please give the JFR a call at 1.888.421.1221)

The JFR also runs an internationally lauded Holocaust education program for middle and high school teachers and Holocaust center personnel.

The JFR publication, Voices and Views : A History of the Holocaust, introduced and edited by historian Deborah Dwork, is the cornerstone of the Foundation's education program.

Their offices are located at 305 Seventh Avenue in New York City.

For further information, please explore:

The JFR's annual dinner, which will honor both Ruth Gruener and Joanna Zalucka, will be held on Tuesday, November 29th at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Marven.Hazel.Shanken.jpg Marvin R. & Hazel Shanken

At the event, Dinner Chair the Honorable Rudolph Giuliani will present the JFR's Recognition of Goodness Award to Hazel and Marvin R. Shanken.

Mr. Shanken of Shanken Communications is the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines. Ms. Shanken is on the board of The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

In addition to honoring the Shankens and Ruth Gruener and Joanna Zalucka, Kip Altman, a Lerner Fellow from South Carolina, will receive the eighth annual Robert I. Goldman Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education.

The 2005 dinner will be the non-profit organization's largest and most successful ever. To inquire about attending, please contact Stanlee Stahl at 1.888.421.1221.

Inspire & Be Inspired.

Here's to healthy, adventuresome, soulful, "most grateful" living!

~ Jennifer Carolyn King, Rugged Elegance, LLC

Posted by jck at November 25, 2005 8:02 PM

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