Holocaust survivor Rena Quint shares details of her conversation with President Biden at Yad Vashem.
Two weeks after she met U.S. President Joe Biden at Yad Vashem, Holocaust survivor Rena Quint is still in disbelief that she was chosen for this visit, along with Dr. Gita Cycowicz. Quint is also amazed that the interaction with the President was very different from what she and Dr. Cycowicz were told it would be.
Quint, whose story was shared in The Jewish Link this past May 5, was born in Piotrkow, Poland in 1936, and is the only one of her family to survive the Holocaust. She survived by hiding as a young boy, and thanks to the generosity of many kind strangers who lent a hand to this young orphan. After the war, she relocated to Sweden and then to New York, where she was raised by her adopted family. In 1984 she and her husband made aliyah to Jerusalem.
Almost immediately upon arrival in Israel, Quint began volunteering at Yad Vashem. Over the years, she has shared her testimony with many dignitaries, ambassadors, high-profile athletes and public officials. But she had never met a U.S. president until two weeks ago.
Biden participated in a memorial ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance, in the presence of Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Dr. Cycowicz and Quint. After the ceremony, the president approached the two women, who in turn rose to greet him. But he nodded twice, motioning for them to sit down. “It just happened. I can’t tell you it was planned,” Quint said. “I don’t think he thought it through. He really was very genuine and very human.”
Quint shared excerpts from their warm conversation. Biden told Quint that he was so honored and pleased that he visited Israel and had the opportunity lay a wreath at Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust. He also shared that after his first wife passed away, he did not know how life could go on. But then he met Jill and life did go on. He commended the two women for their resilience and for the lives they have built after being surrounded by death.
Quint told the president how much she enjoyed watching him and his wife, Jill, hold hands as she would do with her husband of 60 years. It was at this point that Biden kissed Quint. “And I kissed him back, which is such an amazing thing that I had the chutzpah to do that,” she joked. “Everything was so spontaneous. They told me we would not have any interaction with the president.”
Quint also told the president that she hoped that he, along with Israel’s leaders, could work to find a way to stop war.
Biden was visibly moved from his encounter with the two women. Later that day, a photo of the president with the two women was posted to his social media channels: “Today, I paid a visit to the hallowed ground of Yad Vashem where I had the distinct honor of meeting Dr. Gita Cycowicz and Ms. Rena Quint, two Holocaust survivors. I vow to continue our shared, unending work to fight the poison of antisemitism wherever we find it in the world.” This post garnered close to 80,000 likes across the president’s social media channels, and photos of the visit were shared by media outlets around the globe.
Since the visit, Quint cannot go too far without being stopped on the street. “The taxi drivers want to take selfies with me,” she joked. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are especially proud of Quint, who opened a WhatsApp group, “Biden and Savta,” to circulate photos of the encounter. Their friends are asking for a chance to meet this “famous” grandmother.
But life has gone back to normal for Quint. One day after her meeting with the president, she attended the dance recital of one of her great-grandchildren. And her schedule at Yad Vashem continues to be filled with groups from around the world.
Quint is still processing the fact that she met with the president of the United States. “Can you imagine a little girl who came from war-torn Europe and didn’t speak English is now meeting with such a powerful person?”
Eighty years after her family was murdered for being Jewish and she managed to escape death, that little girl was honored by the president of the United States—in Jerusalem—for choosing life.
Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.