World War II survivors who became best friends at labor camp unexpectedly reunite after 79 years

Two men who became friends at a labor camp during the Holocaust were unexpectedly reunited after 79 years.

Jack Waksal and Sam Ron endured slave labor together in the Pionki Labor Camp in Poland and were separated after the former fled into the forest. Sam was moved into a different camp and was ultimately freed.

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Neither knew if the other had survived until Jack attended a dinner in South Florida hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Sam was the honorary speaker at the event held in Boca Raton, where there were other Holocaust survivors in attendance.

When he arrived and saw Sam, Jack said that he thought he knew him from somewhere but couldn’t place it.

“He was standing to the side,” he recalled. “And I said to somebody, ‘I know this guy.'”

Jack Waksal in an interview with WPBF 35 News
Jack Waksal | WPBF

When the event started, a video about Sam’s life and the many camps he survived was shown. It mentioned that he was in Camp Pionki and that his original name was Shmuel Rakowski. That’s when Jack finally realized why he looked so familiar—they were old camp comrades in Pionki.

Jack hurriedly went over to Sam’s table and said, “Sam! You are alive!”

“This one guy jumped out from the house and came over to kiss me. ‘You’re my brother! You’re my brother!” Sam said of the emotional moment.

“Oh, I was all excited,” he recalled. “This was unusual. It’s 79 years now. We’re 97 years old!”

To find someone else who went through exactly what they did was significant.

Sam Ron in an interview with WPBF 35 News
Sam Ron | WPBF

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

Jack and Sam were only teenagers when they worked together in Pionki.

“We were pushing coal to the oven to make heat to make power, and Jack said he worked at the same place!” Sam described their time in the camp. “Hard work, bad conditions, cold, hunger, hundreds of people died. It wasn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person next to you cold.”

He also remembered the fear of being randomly selected to be sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and the time he had to go without food for over two weeks. People were forced to eat the bark off trees to survive.

Men in the Dachau concentration camp during the Holocaust
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Jack said there were days he had to be on his feet for 24 hours or risk being shot. Eventually, he escaped to the forest.

Sam said hunger was the “worst thing” at the concentration camps. In total, he survived five different camps during the war, including the one in Poland.

Both managed to immigrate to the United States, specifically Ohio, where they lived for many years before moving to South Florida. They were unaware of each other’s existence until that fateful dinner.

Sam occasionally makes school appearances to share his experiences with the younger generation.

“I try to teach them not to hate, and to have a lot of hope and believe in yourself, this is what I did, this is how I survived because I believe in myself,” he said.

Sam Ron and Jack Waksal meeting during a dinner organized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Ari Odzer, an NBC reporter, said the pair have avenged themselves against Adolf Hitler by living long, successful lives, running businesses, and enjoying the love of their families.

“It’s an amazing story. I was so taken by this,” Sam said of their reunion. “It got me a lot of hope. I was very excited about it.”

“You think it’s never going to happen,” Jack said. “But it did happen.”

Jack lives in Bal Harbor while Sam lives in Boca Raton. The long-lost friends are 40 miles apart but are determined to keep in touch. After all, they surely have a lot of stories to tell each other—all spanning 79 years of their lives.

Learn more about this incredible reunion in the video below.

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