NEW YORK (Reuters) - Golda Bushkanietz is not religious but when Irena Walulewicz helped save her from death at the hands of the Nazis, she thought an angel saved her.
After 62 years, the two met at JFK International Airport in New York City at an event sponsored by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, a group formed in 1986 to give financial assistance to people who rescued Jews during World War II.
Bushkanietz, who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, hugged Walulewicz and spoke to her in Polish as Walulewicz, who is deaf and mute, wept.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry,” Bushkanietz said in Polish.
Bushkanietz, 94, is a Jew from Swieciany, Poland who hid in the Walulewicz’s home in 1943 when the Nazis were rounding up and killing millions of Jews in Europe and North Africa.
“She knocked on the window and they opened up the door. She thought that there was an angel up there who saved her,” said her son Joseph More, 59, translating for his mother, who spoke also spoke in Hebrew and Yiddish at a press conference. “My mother is not religious.”
Bushkanietz and her husband Szymon were rounded up in 1941 and sent to a slave labor camp. Later, Szymon fled and joined up with partisans.
Zofia Walulewicz and daughter Irena, then 17, hid Golda in their attic, bringing her food and regularly emptying a bucket that she used for a toilet.
“It’s in her religion that she needs to help somebody,” said Anna Varshavskaya, her translator.
In November 1943, Golda joined her husband and the partisans, living in underground tunnels and shacks for the rest of the war. She saw Walulewicz once more in 1945.
She and Szymon spent three years in a refugee camp in Germany and moved to Israel in 1949. Szymon died 33 years ago.
Bushkanietz said she sent the family money over the years but did not visit Poland because they did not have enough money for traveling, More said.
It is uncertain how many Jews were rescued by neighbors and other supporters. The Righteous Among the Nations program at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem counts 21,310 people as helping to rescue Jews and 8,000 rescue stories.
“She’s very happy to meet (Irena),” More said. “She never forgot.”
Editing by John O'Callaghan