A Remarkable Reunion 70 Years After Auschwitz Liberation

Photographed together as children leaving the concentration camp in 1945, three New Jersey Holocaust survivors reunited in North Caldwell in 2017.

Three New Jersey–based Holocaust survivors embrace in an emotional reunion in 2017.
L-R: Holocaust survivors Sarah Ludwig, Tova Friedman and Michael Bornstein have an emotional reunion in 2017. Courtesy of Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Tova Friedman, Sarah Ludwig and Michael Bornstein, who were all all born in Poland and later became New Jersey residents, were among the 52 children under the age of eight who were miraculously still alive in Auschwitz when the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945.

None of them could have imagined their incredible reunion that would take place in New Jersey more than 70 years later. It came about after Friedman attended a fundraiser at the Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school in Randolph, in 2015. She was startled to see a photo in a slide show that she knew well—one of her and other children leaving Auschwitz on the day they were freed. It turned out that another girl in the picture, Ludwig, had been a teacher at the school for many years. 

Friedman had even met Ludwig before: Ludwig had taught two of her grandchildren. And, astonishingly, the two women had lived just 40 minutes away from each other for decades, Ludwig in Livingston and Friedman in Highland Park. At the time of the fundraiser, Ludwig was retired, but Friedman reached out. 

Sarah Ludwig, Tova Friedman and Michael Bornstein are seen as children leaving Auschwitz

L-R: Friedman, Ludwig and Bornstein are seen as children leaving Auschwitz in 1945. Courtesy of Pańtswowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau

Then, in 2017, they learned a third child in the photo had also moved to New Jersey after the Holocaust: Bornstein, who lived in North Caldwell. His daughter quickly organized a bagel-brunch reunion for the three survivors, as well as their children and grandchildren, at her North Caldwell home on June 11, 2017. 

[RELATED: New Jersey Holocaust Survivors Share Their Stories, Inspiring Hope in New Generations]

Mostly a joyous event, it was, of course, also filled with a sorrowful sharing of memories. “I had always wondered what happened to the other children in the photo,” Friedman says. “I found it shocking that a little girl standing next to me in that photo taken at Auschwitz would one day teach two of my grandchildren. It was like God saying, ‘Don’t worry. There will be continuity.’”

Sadly, Ludwig died last September 13 at age 81. Friedman and Bornstein stay in touch via phone, text and email, and plan to get together once Covid-19 is no longer a danger. 

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