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'Angel' of Holocaust

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It was 61 years ago that a teenager in Poland bravely risked certain death and hid an 8-year-old Jewish girl in her bedroom for eight months so the Nazis could not find her.

Ruth Gamzer stayed in a dark corner of 18-year-old Joanna Szczygiel's room - watched over by the teen's Christian family - before she was taken to her parents, who were in hiding elsewhere.

The two girls last saw each other in 1945 - after the war, Joanna remained in Poland and Ruth and her parents moved to Munich and then Brooklyn.

Yesterday, they were reunited in an emotional meeting where the women - now both grandmothers - cried and spoke of miracles and courage.

"In a thousand languages, I couldn't say how I feel for her," Ruth Gamzer Gruener, 72, said as she and Joanna Szczygiel Zalucka, 82, hugged.

"You still look so young," Zalucka said in Polish, shortly after touching down at JFK.

"It's a miracle I was able to come," she said of her two-week trip from Poland, sponsored by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, to stay at the Mill Basin home of Gruener and her husband, another Holocaust survivor.

It was a miracle that Ruth survived after the Germans took over the city of Lvov in 1941 and began to kill Jews - starting with children.

"Everyone in my town was taken to a killing concentration camp," said Gruener, whose father first hid her in their second bathroom.

"I would sit in the bathroom and hear footsteps looking for me," she said.

Gruener's father had owned a candy shop, and Zalucka was a regular customer. Ruth's mother begged Joanna's mother to "save our child."

"They were angels to put their lives in danger to save me," said Gruener.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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