Film is more powerful than just words and photos. It is hard to reflect further on my thoughts when I felt the one-hour special with Ann Curry was so powerful. It is an inclusive experience that plays on all our senses. We can imagine ourselves immersed in what we are seeing. For our episode of We’ll Meet Again we traveled the globe to Germany, Los Angeles, Israel, and back to my home of Las Vegas. Hours of footage were condensed into 30 minutes that were so impactful for our viewers.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my story in this way. I am thankful for the professionalism of the crew. They were so great to travel with. At first I thought they were just chronicling my life. I had no idea when we began that I would have the chance to meet the family of someone I had loved so much. I am thankful to be interviewed by Ann Curry. She is a kind, intelligent, fascinating woman. It was a true honor to meet her and share my story.
As I discussed with Ann Curry my first taste of Nazi barbarism was the Nazi soldier killing the baby with a smirk on his face. This was the first taste of the horrors to come. It was inconceivable to imagine these things were possible. It was the 20th century.
All I knew during my time in the holocaust was that, until the end, my cousin Isaac was with me. Being his strength gave me the will to survive. I knew I couldn’t leave him. We survived the camps. We survived the 250-mile death march in the snow. We survived the trains by rationing out a single loaf of bread. By the time the train arrived at Dachau I weighed 65 lbs. I was 16 years old. Most others had died. When we heard cries of liberation, my cousin Isaac died in my arms. I was free, but I was alone.
At St. Ottilien Archabbey in Germany I was reborn. It was there I met my brother, Moshe Opatowski, who I shared a hospital bed with. As you saw in the film, we found the exact bed Moshe and I shared. Even more amazing, the crew was able to find a photo of Moshe and I in that very bed. What a rare gift. He was a Polish Jew, a Holocaust survivor, who I felt was the only person in the world who had shared my experiences with me. He also shared my passion of wanting to establish our own country, a Jewish nation where we would be strong and we would be safe. Moshe and I were selected to travel to Palestine for that purpose. The night before we were to leave I found out my beautiful sister, Lola, was alive, but that she was dying. I had to make the impossible choice between my brother and my sister. I chose my sister who I believed to be dying. I never heard from Moshe again.
I ran to my sister Lola. She was pregnant! She had tricked me so that there was no chance I would not come. With her, her husband, and her new baby we moved to the United States. I began a life there. I married Jean. I had two daughters. I had grandchildren and great grandchildren. I still thought often of Moshe.
To share my experiences, and to prevent these atrocities from ever occurring again, I started ZACHOR, a Holocaust Remembrance Foundation. I spoke at schools. I encouraged people to SHOUT-OUT. I give testimony to my experience in hopes that we will never repeat this part of history.
When Ann Curry told me we may be able to find Moshe, I was elated. A chance to see my brother again? I would be so happy. Jordanna Gessler, the Director of Education at The Los Angeles Museum of The Holocaust, helped me to locate my brother and a video of his testimony, which was stored at University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. Dr. Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, was able to locate Moshe’s testimony. I was able to watch his film and hear him say my name.
He called me his brother. He said he missed me. He said he hoped one day I would watch his video.
I was touched. At the time I watched his testimony I did not know whether Moshe was still alive. I was informed after that Moshe passed away in 2012.
I never had a chance to put my arms around him and tell him how I felt.
I did, however, have a chance to meet his children. We met high up on the hill of the ruins of the Fortress and walked in the area that Moshe slept every night after the hard but rewarding labor of building the Kibbutz with his bare hands. They were always shot upon by the Palestinians, the ruins of the fortress protected what they called home. My brother had fulfilled his dream of starting a life in Israel. Moshe was one of the original founders of the Kibbutz at Yehi’Am Fortress, located the Western Upper Galilee, 14 miles south-east of the border with Lebanon. His children, Osnet and Zohar, grew up there. The fortress was their playground when they were children. Being able to meet them, in the country Moshe was so proud of, and tell them how much I loved their father, was a moment I will never forget. I felt Moshe was there with us, watching us. I felt he was just as happy as I was to create this memory. Meeting his children gave me peace. It was a miracle that made me feel young again. It was closure, but it was also a new beginning to be able to know them and keep in touch with them.
As Ann Curry said,
“the overcoming the horrors of the past give us the strength to build a better future. Love always triumphs hate.”
For behind the scenes footage, please click here
To read more about me, my history and adventures, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.”
To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit: