DAYTON, Ohio — Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is a day to honor and reflect on the millions of victims of the Holocaust. However, it’s also a time to celebrate their resilience.
“Many of us carried bread in our pockets because we were used to being hungry,” says Ira Segalewitz.
Ira lived through many hardships in his childhood. He was born in Poland in 1936 before he and his family left their home to flee into Russia to escape the Nazis. They ended up in a work camp in the Ural Mountains. Now in his mid 80s and living in Dayton, he remembers all the pain and suffering his family and friends endured.
“We didn’t have shoes, we didn’t have clothes that kept us warm.”
He also remembers the few glimpses of joy. More than 70 years and a lifetime later, he remembers the friends he met in a displacement camp, including his first love. Ruth Brandspiegel gave Ira her handkerchief when he was in his early teens at a displaced person’s camp in Austria.
“I thought she was extremely pretty,” says Segalewitz. “I’d go into a movie and it’d be dark and I knew exactly where she was.”
Recently, he read a story about two Holocaust survivors reconnecting. As he thumbed through the pages, he couldn’t help but notice the similarities to his story. Then on page 3, he saw her picture and couldn’t believe it. It was Ruth.
“I saw her picture and I said, ‘Ah.’ I really got excited,” says Segalewitz. “I was jumping around, I was happy and had tears all over my face.”
The two reconnected. Joined by their children and grandchildren in a zoom call, they shared memories of what they withstood and where they’ve been since. They also talked about the handkerchief that Ira has kept all these years.
“It’s one of the three things that I brought back,” says Segalewitz.
Ruth and Ira continue to speak every week. A young crush that’s blossomed into a long-distance friendship which is connected by a past they both persevered.
Segalewitz says, “Even though I would think about her once in a while, I never expected it anymore. So this has been a very exciting time for me, very much.”