The Holocaust survivors that greeted the Pope during the ceremony:
Avraham Harshalom (Friedberg) was born in the town of Pruzhany, (today Belarus) in 1925 where he attended the Jewish school Tarbut. A few months after the Germans invaded in 1941, the Jews of the town, including Avraham and his family, were forced to live in the Pruzhany Ghetto, where they remained until being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. Avraham's parents and grandparents were murdered upon arrival and his brother, Sioma, was murdered in the gas chambers six weeks after they arrived at Auschwitz. In June 1944, Avraham and two other inmates escaped by hiding in a pit, but they were eventually recaptured after a number of days. In October 1944, he was taken to Buchenwald and later to a work force in Crawinkel. After the evacuation of the camp he was sent back by foot to Buchenwald. Avraham then passed himself off as a Pole and was sent by train to the Leitmeritz camp where after a few weeks he escaped by jumping off the train and getting on another one headed to Prague. Avraham later found refuge in the house of the Sobotka family, the mother of which Irina, was later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. In April 1945 he fought against the Nazis who were retreating from Prague. Following the war, he began studying at the Technical University in Prague and was recruited by members of the Haganah in Czechoslovakia, took part in a pilot's course in the Czechoslovakian army and immigrated to Israel in 1949 where he served in the Israeli Air Force headquarters in Jaffa during Israel's War of Independence. Avraham later founded a successful company, is the author of an autobiography, Alive From the Ashes and is a supporter of Yad Vashem. Avraham married in 1951 and has a daughter, two sons and six grandchildren.
Chava (Eva) Shik and her twin sister Miriam were born in Novi Sad, Serbia in 1939 to Dr. George and Vera Tibor. In 1942, Chava and her sister were taken to the edge of the Danube, where a mass murder of over a 1,000 Jews and Serbs was perpetrated by members of the Hungarian Gendarmes, yet both sisters managed to survive. Afterwards, the day before the deporation of the Jews of Novi Sad to Auschwitz, an Austrian officer by the name of Roman Erich Petsche took the two girls to Budapest and from there arranged shelter for them in a monastery in Pecs. The head of the monastery, Sister Renata sheltered Chava and her sister along with two other Jewish children. Both Sister Renata and Rosenspitz were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. After the war, having lost their family, the girls were adopted by their mother's cousin and in 1948 immigrated to Israel where they grew up on Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh. Following her army service, Chava moved to Lehavot-Haviva, a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz, and married Zeev Shik, who had lost his entire family there, and with whom she has two children and three grandchildren.
Joseph Gottdenker was born in Sandomierz, Poland, in 1942. Just prior to his birth, Joseph’s father, Ben, was taken to a concentration camp. A Catholic Polish family, Wladyslaw and Petronela Ziolo, sheltered Joseph and his mother Bina in their home shortly after he was born. After providing his mother with false identity papers and helping her escape with the Polish Underground, they protected and raised Joseph as their own child at great risk to themselves for almost three years. The Ziolos were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. With the help of his uncle David Zuckerbrot, after the war Joseph was reunited with his parents whereupon they spent three years in Germany as displaced persons. In 1949, Joseph immigrated to the United States with his family and later to Canada where he became a successful businessman. A Benefactor of Yad Vashem, Joseph is the father of three children and grandfather of five.
Moshe Ha-Elion, born in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1925 received a traditional Jewish education and attended school at the city's Gymnasium. After the Nazi invasion, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943, where his entire family was murdered upon arrival. After surviving 21 months in Auschwitz, in January 1945, he was taken on a death march in the freezing cold. Moshe survived and was later transferred to the Mauthausen, Malchow, and Ebensee concentration camps. He was eventually liberated by the American army in Austria. After the war he immigrated to Israel and joined the IDF where he enjoyed a long career reaching the rank of colonel. Moshe has a MA in Humanities, is an author of Ladino poetry and has published a translation of Homer's "The Odyssey" from Greek to Ladino. Dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, Moshe is active in many survivor organizations and heads the Association of Holocaust Survivors of Greek Origin in Israel and is a volunteer member of the Yad Vashem Directorate. Moshe has a daughter and son, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Eliezer (Lolek) Grynfeld was born in Lodz in 1923 and received a Jewish education and also attended a Polish school. In April 1940 he, along with his mother and grandparents, were forced to move into the Lodz Ghetto. Both of his grandparents died and were buried there. In the ghetto Eliezer worked for the hospital in several capacities, including as a mail courier and clerk. During the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto in August 1944 Eliezer was used as a forced laborer and along with his mother was later taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Upon arrival he was separated from his mother who was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Eliezer was later taken on a death march and along with other inmates escaped before joining up with Soviet forces and helping as a translator. After the war, Eliezer returned to Lodz where he was reunited with his mother. He decided to immigrate to Israel but was stopped in Germany by the Allies who put him in a Displaced Persons camp where he met his wife Rachel. Eliezer fell ill in the DP camp and his mother came and took him with her to Poland, with Rachel joining him a year later. He eventually immigrated to Israel in 1956 with his wife Rachel and worked in the military industry. Eliezer's mother who immigrated to Israel a year later, remarried another Holocaust survivor, Mendel Koplowicz, whose son, Abramek was an artistically talented boy who was murdered in Auschwitz at age 14. A replica of Abramek's painting, which was recovered by his father along with a notebook of his poems and writings, will be presented to Pope Francis at the conclusion of the visit. Eliezer has two children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Sonia Tunik-Geron was born in 1924 in Stolpce, Poland (now Belarus) and went to the Jewish school Tarbut. With the outbreak of the war and the division of Poland in 1939, she began to study in a Russian school. In 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, Sonia was deported to the ghetto and confined to a small apartment with 27 people. While there she worked at the train station cleaning train cars and collecting cigarette stubs to sell in order to help support her family. In October 1942, Sonia escaped to the forest with a friend who was connected to the underground. She joined the Zhukov partisan unit led by Jewish commander Lyuba Giłczyk and lived in the forests with hundreds of fighters and their families from December 1942 to July 1944. Sonia lost her entire immediate family during the Shoah. In 1947 she immigrated to Israel aboard the SS Latrun. She studied nursing at Beilinson hospital and worked there as a nurse until retirement. She married in 1950 and is a mother of three children. After her husband's death she later remarried and today has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.