It was a long wait for Holocaust survivors Gita Cycowicz, 93, a Czech-born survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Rena Quint, 85, a Polish-born survivor of Bergen-Belsen, as they waited to meet with US President Joe Biden. They had been instructed to arrive way ahead of Biden, so they simply sat and waited.
The two women – who immigrated to America after the war and were educated, married and raised families there before settling in Israel – are very articulate and in high demand by Yad Vashem as speakers to visiting groups.
They have also shared the memories of their experiences with youth groups in Israel and elsewhere that they have escorted to Poland on educational tours about the Holocaust. They have committed their stories to books.
Here are their stories
Word of their individual abilities to reach out to audiences and stir emotions in them have resulted in numerous requests from organizations and institutions abroad that send delegations to Israel.
Unfortunately, it was very difficult to hear their conversation with Biden, but it was obvious from the expressions on their faces and his that they moved him emotionally – so much so that he grasped the hands of each and kissed Cycowicz, who did most of the talking, on the cheek. There were moments when their facial expressions were very sad, and others when they were suffused with amusement.
Curious as to exactly what was going on, President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz – whose mother, like Quint, was a survivor of Bergen-Belsen – moved in to hear what was being said and to contribute to the conversation. They shook hands with the women. Lapid, whose father was a child Holocaust survivor, has a special affinity for Holocaust survivors in general, and always bends low to meet them at eye level when introduced to them. He did so again at Yad Vashem.
OK one more thing. One of the Holocaust survivors just said on the news "they told us not to touch him and not to shake his hands because of corona, but he knelt in front of us and grabbed our hands!"— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) July 13, 2022
Biden has said more than once, including in Israel, that when he and his family first went to Europe, he took his children to the Dachau concentration camp because he thought it was important for them to know what happened there and why it happened.
Though not for a moment doubting Biden’s sincerity in his condemnation of antisemitism, Cycowicz wanted to know what he could do to eliminate rising antisemitism in America. Both she and Quint were concerned by what was happening in the country in which they regained their dignity as human beings and rebuilt their lives.