Vladimir promptly called the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation to accept their generous offer to travel to Poland as a member of the Survivor’s Delegation and was told…they were full. We were put on a waiting list, to which Vladimir commented, “So someone will have to break something or die and then we can go!”
So, why would a 94 and ¾ year old survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau choose a woman to whom he was not even related to accompany him on this emotional journey back in time? I met Vladimir when his wife Kitty was alive but beginning to suffer the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, circa 2014. By that time, the couple were veterans of the Lake Forest Senior Retirement community in Plattsburgh, NY. My friend and music partner, Tim Hartnett, asked if I would like to volunteer some time playing music for the residents. Tim, Vladimir and Kitty had been neighbors before their move to Lake Forest, and had often met up when Vladimir walked his dachshund, Peppy. Tim and I would play a set and Vladimir would often ask us back to his apartment for a beverage.
After Kitty died, the offers for dinner at the residence’s main dining room came more frequently. I accepted when I could, enjoying time with this fascinating man whose secret to longevity seemed to be a firm reliance on living in the present, and wine. As our friendship deepened, Vladimir would share stories of his experiences during the Holocaust. The writer in me was horrified and deeply moved by the stories he told and what this man I now called a dear friend had endured. Would Vladimir let me tell his story for a series of articles in a regional paper, The Sun Community News? He said yes and the first half of our incredible journey began.