By 1945, Bela, the Hungarian agriculture specialist, was now Al, the American combat engineer.
Having grown up in rural western Hungary, he earned his ticket to freedom in 1940, at the age of 27, in the form of a rare agricultural visa. Following initial assistance from HIAS in his first few months, Al started anew through various newspaper jobs in Pittsburgh and then Cleveland.
However, as the situation for Hungary’s Jewish population deteriorated, he soon decided to join his new country’s fight to liberate Europe.
In 1942, Al Reet, who died last month a few weeks shy of his 105th birthday, returned to his native continent with the U.S. Army after living in America for only two years. His mission was twofold: to win the war and to search for surviving family members among the displaced.
While deployed in Italy during the summer of 1945, Al caught wind that his younger sister, Piri, who later went by Rosette, was alive and living in the Kaunitz Displaced Persons Camp outside Lippstadt, West Germany.
Rosette, who passed away in July 2017 at the age of 95, had been deported from Gyor, Hungary to Auschwitz in 1944 and spent time there and in Lippstadt labor camp until being liberated in April 1945. Her and Al’s parents, Gisella and Karoly, perished at Auschwitz.
“Darling sister, I'm writing you in English, hoping that you will understand,” Al wrote in a June 1945 letter to Rosette. “When I received the message about you I could hardly talk. I thanked God, that at least you were alive, but dreaded to think what you had to go through.”
In a letter back to Al on July 10, 1945, she wrote: “I’ve sent many letters to you but didn’t get any answer...I would like to find an occasion to come to you and I wait for your advice and help.”
Rosette’s grandson, Jay Lurie, noted in a recent eulogy for his great-uncle, that she “would recount among the happiest days of her life when Al showed up at the British Military Station where she was working as a clerk.”
“After five years of separation, she was in shock and elation seeing her brother, now suited up in the uniform of the country that had liberated her.”
Finally reunited with her brother, HIAS also helped Rosette settle in the U.S. when she arrived at the end of 1946. She relied heavily upon HIAS and other Jewish organizations to find jobs and to make contacts in her new community.
Now, more than seven decades later, Mr. Lurie, a 37-year-old international finance professional in the Washington, D.C. area, is doing his part to keep his family’s connection to HIAS alive.
“Growing up, I would hear stories from my grandmother and uncle about how HIAS had helped them,” Lurie told HIAS.org.
“A few weeks ago, when I told my great-uncle Al that I had been in touch with HIAS, he marveled that the organization is still doing meaningful work after all this time.”
In addition to incorporating parts of the HIAS Haggadah Supplement into his Passover Seder, Lurie, who spent several years living and working throughout Asia, has been active in attending local refugee-related events.
“Having grown up with grandparents who came with nothing, I am very aware of how privileged I am to be in a position to support newcomers to this country,” he said.
Lurie says that in this politically-charged moment marked by increased xenophobia, he feels strongly that today’s refugees should have the same opportunity to contribute that his family did.
“My family was helped by HIAS and other organizations like it. My grandparents worked hard, my parents worked hard, and now I just want to do what I can to make sure others have that same chance.”