06/04/2014 11:50 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:58 EDT

Montreal man reunites with Polish rescuer who saved him from Nazis

Sidney Zoltak’s past contains horrors many people would want to forget. But instead, the Holocaust survivor has made it his mission to share his story.

Zoltak is one of this year’s participants in the March of the Living. The annual educational trip takes Montreal Jewish students to Poland, where they learn about the atrocities of the Second World War first-hand from survivors like Zoltak.

Zoltak takes part because he’s one of the few from his childhood community who can.

“From a community of 7,000 Jews, less than 70 remained,” Zoltak said, describing his hometown of Siemiatycze in north-east Poland and the Nazi campaign that took place against the Jews there. “I had a responsibility to tell this story because my friends, my classmates, could not speak for themselves.”

Zoltak’s trip to Poland was not simply to relive the nightmare of the Holocaust. It was also to celebrate the family who saved him from it. 

Back in 1942, after months of running for their lives, the Zoltaks were taken in by a Catholic family who hid them in their barn for 14 months. More than 70 years later, Zoltak’s trip to Poland included a visit back to that farm to embrace the son of that family who first spotted Zoltak’s father hiding in the forest.

“These were people that really didn’t know my parents.” Zoltak said. “They were total strangers. But those people were exceptional human beings … just wonderful.”

[You can see video of Zoltak talking about his devastated Polish hometown at the top of this page, and watch the full story of the reunion with his rescuer on The National tonight starting at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network, and after the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on CBC Television.]