Philadelphia-area Holocaust survivors recognized with special notes

BALA CYNWYD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- It's this time of year when the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia celebrates the liberation of holocaust survivors. Arie Kasiarz, 94, is one of them.

"The one night, all the planes were flying at the top, and we were liberated," said Kasiarz, who lived in the Lodz Ghetto as a 12-year-old in Poland. "We didn't know what happened. Thank God I was liberated."

Kasiarz's job was to clean human waste using a hand-drawn wagon. He considers himself lucky to be one of only hundreds saved from his location. Since then, he has led a spectacular life traveling the globe and raising children alongside his wife of 62 years and counting.

"I don't complain," he said. "I got everything in life I need."

Despite this, Kasiarz and his wife have not traveled outside the house much in the last two years. It is the support system from his family and the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia that secures his lifestyle in his own house.

"If I couldn't die in a concentration camp, I don't want to die in a home," he said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of JFCS's services have been curtailed. One of them is the Café Europa, a symbolic celebration where Holocaust survivors can chat and dance together. It is inspired by a café of the same name in Stockholm, Sweden, that was frequented by survivors.

"It became known as a place to reconnect with people that you hadn't seen and if you didn't even know were still alive," said JFCS CEO Paula Goldstein.

With the event canceled for the second year in a row, local survivors had no way to connect in-person. Thus, the JFCS tasked their art therapist with illustrating special postcards that volunteers hand-delivered today.

"The art therapist asked what liberation means to them and the note card depicts that reaction: hope, joy, sadness, faith," said board member and volunteer Amy Stein. "Many of our survivors are home bound and it's just a big deal to get out and see people. So now, we're coming to them."

Kasiarz was thrilled to get a visitor today and spent an hour bragging about his growing family and life travels.

"Our children has to remember there was one time a Holocaust," he said in reflection. "Never forget."

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