Published originally in Daily Press.

By Frank Shatz

Last week was an extraordinary week for me and, I believe, for the enduring cause of Holocaust awareness.

I traveled to Los Angeles to have a face-to-face reunion with Dr. George Berci, a 101-year-old Holocaust survivor, a world-renowned surgeon and medical research pioneer. It had been nearly 80 years since we both escaped from the very same Nazi slave labor camp, where we must have crossed paths. We had not seen each other since.

Our reunion was covered by all the major TV networks and news organizations and received worldwide exposure.

It all started, when my niece, Erika Fabian, also a Holocaust survivor, living in Venice, California, shared with me an article published in the Los Angeles Times about Dr. George Berci. She noticed that Dr. Berci’s Holocaust experiences and survival matched mine.

I wrote a letter to Dr. Berci, who still works at his Cedar-Sinai Medical Center office twice a week. I mentioned to him that our paths during the Holocaust must have crossed. Two days later I received a phone call from him.

We compared notes and determined that we not only served in the same Nazi slave labor camp, but we also escaped from there the same day during an Allied aerial bombardment of Budapest. We joined the same anti-Nazi underground movement and did the same work, delivering false IDs to Jewish families in hiding.

In a April 6. 2022, Gazette column, “Long-distance reunion of two survivors of Holocaust,” I described how our long-distance reunion came about. Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, a former senior State Department official and former president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, read the column. He contacted Michael Holtzman, a graduate of William & Mary, a former senior advisor to the U.S. government and the current president of SEC Newgate/Bellwether Strategies, a prominent public relations firm that represents the American Jewish Congress. Reiss suggested that Holtzman could help secure assistance to reunite myself and Dr. Berci.

“Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, did not hesitate to offer his organization resources and time to make the reunion happen,” Holtzman told me. “Jack was himself born in a German-displaced persons camp and is focused today on countering the anti-semitism that has festered and spreading like cancer in our country.”

Holtzman noted that the amount of the media coverage of the face-to-face reunion is a testament of the interest in the stories and the enduring lessons of the Holocaust for today’s young people.

CNN national correspondent Natasha Chen, who conducted a lengthy interview with me in Los Angeles, wrote to me: “Thank you again for your willingness to talk to us. I know we didn’t have time to mention all your amazing life experiences and accomplishment, since our story had to fit a time constraint. But I enjoyed hearing about every one of them.”

The only reason Dr. Berci and I agreed to have our reunion covered by the media was our commitment to bear witness. We are the last generation of Holocaust survivors who can say, “I was there, I have experienced what happened. I had been a victim of the Holocaust.”

In my lectures, I always mention that after my generation is gone, there will be books, films, museums, etc., describing the Holocaust, but no one who can say, “I have witnessed it.”

For 40 years after WWII, I never talked about the Holocaust; I was not interested in the past. I focused on the present and the future. Then, 40 years ago the Holocaust deniers came out of the woodwork. I felt compelled to write about my experiences and give lectures. I had to bear witness.

The reaction of William & Mary students to my lectures about the Holocaust and the history of WWII are a reassurance to me than the new generation of Americans are open-minded, ready to learn from history.

As philosopher, poet and novelist George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

And as for what happened to me in Los Angeles last week, as Harry Golden, the famous Southern-Jewish writer was fond of saying, “Only in America!”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and

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