Former Metro Detroiter to be featured on PBS series We’ll Meet Again Nov. 20.
Kathy Carlson Nashville Jewish Observer
When the second season of the PBS series We’ll Meet Again starts up this month, viewers will learn how two Holocaust survivors were reunited in Centennial Park in Nashville, Tenn., more than 70 years after they last saw each other.
The series, developed by television journalist Ann Curry, features reunions of people whose lives crossed at pivotal moments. One of this year’s stories, to air on Nov. 20, belongs to longtime Metro Detroiter Ben Alalouf, 77, who moved with his wife, Martha, to Middle Tennessee in 2013 to be close to his daughter, Amy. The Alaloufs spend half the year in Tennessee and the other half in Naples, Fla.
Born into a Jewish family in former Yugoslavia in 1941, Ben spent the first three years of his life in hiding in Albania and Italy. He, his older brother and parents eventually escaped from Europe to the United States after the Allies liberated Italy in 1944.
From 1944-46, his family lived in a refugee camp for Holocaust survivors in Oswego, N.Y. There, he met a little girl whose name he remembered as Seeka. She and her family were fellow refugees who lived next door in the camp. His family left Oswego and settled in Brooklyn in 1946, when he was 5 years old. “She was basically my first friend,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
“Hardly anybody even knows about this camp in New York State,” he continued. But Curry had learned about Oswego and became interested in the story.
Staff of the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center, housed in a former camp administration building, contacted people who lived there who are still alive today, including Alalouf.
“The only person I really remember was this little girl next door,” he told the show’s producers.
Let us look into it, they said. Things seemed to be on hold, but one day he received a call from Blink Entertainment in London.
“At first I thought it was a con,” Alalouf recalled. He spoke with them, sent a copy of a presentation that he has made in Florida and then interviewed with the producers over Skype.
Eventually, he and the show’s producers went to Oswego. “There on the wall was my family’s name and everything.” The producers then told Alalouf he would be meeting a Maryland man who was at the same camp with him and lived next door. “On the way down to Maryland they told me it’s going to be quite emotional,” he said.
The producers were right.
In Maryland, Alalouf met the man and showed him a photo of the girl he remembered from long ago — a picture of the two in the snow.
“That’s my sister,” the man said.
“Is she alive?” Alalouf asked.
Yes, he replied; she lives a couple of miles from here, but she was on a cruise in Alaska. Her name was Flora.
Viewers can see how Ben and Flora eventually met in Nashville’s Centennial Park on the We’ll Meet Again episode titled “Surviving the Holocaust” that airs 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, on PBS.
Alalouf said he enjoyed meeting Curry. “She was warm, accepting and professional.”
He then continues the story of his and Flora’s reunion.
“The last time I saw her, I was 5. I’m 77 today,” he said.
They stayed there for a while in the park, then had lunch in downtown Nashville with her brother and sister-in-law and Alalouf’s wife. Then Flora and her family came to the Alaloufs’ home, talking late into the night. “It’s as if we had known each other all our lives,” Alalouf said. “We have become very close friends.” He says he and Martha plan to meet up with Flora in Florida this year.
Over the years, Alalouf has spoken about his experiences in the camp to church groups, school children and at a Holocaust center in Naples. During his 49 years in the West Bloomfield area, he also spoke frequently at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. He was a member of Temple Israel and an avid runner, completing 21 marathons. Alalouf retired in 2009 as a high school administrator in Garden City Schools. He graduated from Murray State University in Kentucky, where he met his wife.
“I was born in a bomb shelter in Yugoslavia,” Alalouf said. “I consider myself to be extremely fortunate.”