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Holocaust Survivor Reunites With Catholic Family That Kept Her Safe

Mary Katz Ehrlich, right, with Egle Ruzgys, a member of the family that hid Katz Ehrlich during the Holocaust. (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

An 83-year-old Holocaust survivor reunited last week with the Catholic family that rescued her and her family, hiding them from the Nazis in Lithuania.

The Thanksgiving reunion was 66 years in the making, but Mary Katz Erlich, now a grandmother of nine, had no trouble recognizing 81-year-old Aurimas Ruzgys or his 83-year-old sister Egle when she met them at the airport.

"I wouldn't be sitting here and talking to you today if not for them," Katz Erlich told Boston Fox affiliate WFXT-TV.

Katz Erlich now lives in Massachusetts, but it was in her small Lithuanian town when she was a little girl where she first met the Ruzgys family. According to the New York Daily News, she and her mother and father sought shelter with the family -- who were patrons at her father's store -- after her brother was murdered.

Leokadija Ruzgys, a widow and mother of three, hid them for three years in a small room where she stored potatoes and in a smokehouse out back.

"They took us in and she said a couple of days, then a couple of days turned into a couple of weeks," Katz Erlich said. "Then a couple of weeks and then she said that's about it, I can't do it anymore. It's a risk."

Lithuania was filled with Nazi collaborators who helped hunt down Jews, and being discovered would mean death for both families.

"The kids started to cry as soon as we went over the threshold," Katz Erlich said. "She said I can't let you go because I know you won't survive for one day."

Katz Erlich said she was allowed to play outside with the other children just one time during the three years, and said she still remembers the feeling of the sunshine on her face. A neighbor eventually turned them in, though when a mob came for them, the third Ruzgys sibling -- who died several years ago -- lied and said no Jews were living there. For that, she was beaten.

Leokadija Ruzgys and the Katz family were taken to a nearby jail, but because the war was ending they were released six months later, when the Soviets invaded.

They met again when they were released.

"She was waiting for us at the gate to stay at her house," Katz Erlich said of Leokadija Ruzgys.

Katz Erlich emigrated to the U.S. but the families kept in touch for years. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous arranged for the only three surviving members to finally meet again, to spend Thanksgiving together.

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