‘I told President Biden that he reminded me of my husband’

Holocaust survivor photographed speaking with the US President reveals the details of their conversation at Yad Vashem


An emotional Joe Biden was photographed kneeling to speak to two Holocaust survivors last Wednesday at Yad Vashem.

Now the full details of the conversation, in which the President shared his own experience of personal tragedy, can be revealed by the JC.

Rena Quint, 86, whose entire family was murdered in Poland, and Gita Cycowicz, 95, who miraculously survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, met the president at a special ceremony where he lit a candle in memory of the six million Jews who murdered in the Holocaust.

Rena Quint told the JC: “I was so excited and didn’t expect it at all. I was told Gita and I would sit by ourselves on a chair at the ceremony.

"My granddaughter came with us and was told she couldn’t come in, and also that we were not supposed to shake hands or get up because of Covid. But Biden was smiling and took my hand.

“I told him I was delighted to see him and thanked him for coming to Israel, and I told him that I watched his wife Jill holding hands all the time and that it reminded me of my late husband as he always held hands. He started to laugh. I didn’t talk about politics and he gave me a kiss and a hug.”

Rena was born as Freida “Freidel” Lichtenstein in December 1935 in the city of Piotrkow Tribunalski, Poland. She was just three when the Nazis occupied her hometown.  In October 1942, her mother and her two older brothers were murdered at the Treblinka camp.

Rena was deported with her father to a concentration camp, where she pretended to be a boy in order to survive.

When her father was murdered she was finally sent to Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

In the various camps she was interned she was adopted by different women but they all died.

She told the JC: “Biden told Gita and I about the tragic incident that took away his first wife and daughter in a car accident but he said he got back on his feet and fell in love again, remarried and had more children. Life goes on, he said, and that he was so proud of us despite having a hard start.

“Then I said this is such a good time for everyone to get together and forget about war. All we need is for peace.

“Gita spoke to him about antisemitism. There were so many camera flashes going on I couldn’t hear her properly. Biden was extremely cordial and friendly.”

England holds a special place in Rena’s heart because her grandson lives in Edgware.

“He was a Rabbi there and worked at Hasmonean Girls’ school,” she recalled. “He took pupils to Poland. On one trip, he took the pupils to the great synagogue of Piotrkow where he said the prayer for miracles.

"That’s because at the synagogue where the Nazis rounded my  mum and siblings up in 1942, when I was only three, I managed to escape to my dad, who was at work at the glass factory. I only survived the war because they dressed me up as a little boy.”

At the end of the war, Rena went to Sweden, where she was adopted by a Holocaust survivor who passed away a few months later.

In 1946, she emigrated to the United States with an adoptive mother, also a Holocaust survivor, who after three months also passed away as a result of her poor physical condition. Rena was then adopted by a Jewish couple who didn’t have children.

Rena earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and worked as a teacher in schools and as a lecturer at Adelphi University in New York and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Rena and her husband emigrated to Israel in 1984 with their four children. She has volunteered for more than 30 years at Yad Vashem, where she educates groups.

“Antisemitism is what started in 1933 with Hitler, with terrible accusations by him and his followers during Kristallnacht. In 1936 the Jews were targeted and who lost?

“All those people that needed doctors and lawyers and other professionals. The world lost out.”

“Now we have Israel. It’s the light unto nations and many people look to us around the world as we are booming with technology and medicine. If they only stopped their hatred then we could all work together.”

“Antisemitism is bad for the Jews but also bad for the rest of the world.

“I am so grateful to be here in Israel. I feel safe and protected.”

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