Separated by Holocaust, old friends reunite in Israel

jerusalem | The two men walk as one — in steady step, shoulder to shoulder, their words a torrent of Yiddish.

There is much to catch up on since the former neighbors and schoolmates last met. That was more than 60 years ago, when the transports, fear and separations that characterized Jewish life during World War II reached their Polish hometown.

Allen Greenstein, 78, is from Los Angeles; Haim Fligelman, 82, lives in Tel Aviv.

The two old friends found each other again last month as they took their seats on a tour bus in Israel. In their respective cities, they both attend Cafe Europa, a club for Holocaust survivors where members gather for concerts, lectures, conversation and coffee.

A group from the Los Angeles chapter went to Israel in April, touring the country and meeting its Tel Aviv counterparts, and members have been exchanging stories and looking for people linked to their past.

“We lived on the same street but have not seen each other since the war,” a beaming Greenstein said. “So it was quite a surprise to meet him on the bus.”

The two grew up in Opatow, a town with a large Jewish population before the war. They went to the same school and attended the same Jewish youth group. Once the war began, many of the town’s Jewish youth, including both of them, were sent to work in munitions factories. They both spent the final months of the war in Buchenwald.

Cafe Europa first began in Los Angeles as a project of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and later became the model for the club of the same name in Tel Aviv. Both are funded by the L.A. federation, which has a sister city relationship with Tel Aviv. (Locally, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay runs a monthly Cafe Europa for survivors and their families, and the S.F.-based JFCS offers a similar Cafe by the Bay.)

At first, connections between members were forged through letter-writing. Then technology stepped in and several video conferences were held.

Fourteen members of the Los Angeles club landed in Israel, and last month the Israeli and U.S. groups met face to face for the first time, traveling through the Judean Desert and the Galilee together. For Yom HaShoah on Sunday, April 18, they attended Israel’s official ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Eva David, 77, from Los Angeles, was in Israel hoping to meet a pair of sisters whom she befriended as a girl in a Hungarian ghetto before her family and theirs — the Daskals — were deported to Auschwitz on the same cattle car.

On the train to Auschwitz, the two families sat next to one another on the floor. One of her final memories of her father is his pulling a bag of chocolates out of his pocket and distributing them to her, her sisters and the Daskal children.

Her mother gestured for him to stop — he had his own children to feed — but he looked up and said, “But these are hungry children, too.”

“This is the last recollection we have of our father,” said David, who worked as a seamstress in Los Angeles. She said the youngest of the Daskal children were gassed upon arrival to Auschwitz.


Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.