It’s important to remember the horrors of the Holocaust are relatively recent and millions of people are still reeling from witnessing humanity at its absolute worst, whether they were directly impacted or grew up in the midst of family trauma after the events.
Children who survived Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime are now seniors and we are still hearing their stories of incredible resilience. One of those stories involves Ruth Brandspiegel and Israel “Sasha” Eisenberg. Their families originated from the same Polish city and were sent to labor camps in Siberia. During this time, Eisenberg was born and the families bounced around between different camps until they ended up together in 1946 at Hallein Displaced Persons Camp in Austria.
Brandspiegel and Eisenberg’s families got to know one another and the children quickly became close friends. When Eisenberg’s father passed in a car accident in 1948, Brandspiegel’s father would recite the Kaddish — the Jewish prayer for the dead — with him to help address his heavy grief.
By 1949, the families went their separate ways, with the Brandspiegels moving to Philadelphia in 1952 and the Eisenbergs moving to Israel and then to Brooklyn in 1964. Neither knew they were so close to one another — less than 60 miles away, in fact — until a virtual service brought the beloved friends together again.
Brandspiegel’s son Larry is a cantor at the East Brunswick Jewish Center and during a Yom Kippur service done over Zoom, Brandspiegel heard a familiar name: Sasha Eisengberg.
“I said to myself, Sasha? I know there’s a lot of Eisenbergs, but Sasha Eisenberg? How could that possibly be?” she told Today.
Larry offered to help look into the name and spoke on the phone with the Eisenberg family. It was the Sasha.
“A thing like this, you don’t forget,” said Eisenberg, who wasn’t aware of Brandspiegel living in America. “So it was very emotional for me. And even as I speak now, I kind of tremble a little bit about it.”
The families reunited by celebrating Sukkot together – in a socially distanced way, of course. They looked through old pictures and reminisced about their beloved bond they formed, in spite of the Holocaust’s evil.
“It’s a shame that we weren’t able to hug under these circumstances,” Brandspiegel said. “But it was something that I never expected, and this was something that gave me so much pleasure that I’m just crying.”