For the better part of his adult life, Holocaust survivor Eric Lipetz searched for a family member of the late Colonel John R. Hall, Jr.
Hall was the Army Medical Corps member Lipetz credits with saving his family’s life following the end of World War II. Lipetz’s search recently ended, when retired FBI agent and friend Vince Pankoke located Hall’s son, Rogers Hall, in Tennessee. Lipetz and Hall came face-to-face on August 14, 2022 for a heartfelt reunion, on the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County campus during a special program, arranged by the March of the Living, Southern Region. The Lipetz, Hall and Pankoke families were in attendance.
The March of the Living, Southern Region, a program of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, connects local survivors with students, young adults and each other, so that the Holocaust is never forgotten and ultimately, never repeated.
Exchanging photos and hugs
Rogers Hall presented Eric Lipetz with a photograph of his father in uniform, which will join existing memorabilia in the Lipetz home, including a letter the Colonel wrote to Lipetz relatives in America, and a photograph of his headstone.
“I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to thank Rogers – and the entire Hall family – in person,” said Lipetz, who is an active participant in March of the Living. “Colonel Hall came into our lives as Manila was liberated from the Philippines and was instrumental in making sure we had enough food, were healthy and got to the United States. He was our ‘angel’.”
The Lipetz family story begins in Belgium, with subsequent chapters including Spain, Morocco, and Portugal, as they fled the Nazis. Lipetz, his parents and two older brothers – secured passage to America with the help of his father’s brother. Their visas were temporary, however, and they were forced to leave the U.S. due to a Jewish quota. His uncle’s business enabled the family to board a ship bound for Manila, Philippines, then an American protectorate, which was safer for Jews than Belgium. They arrived prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
At first, the family lived in an apartment, but were sent to a prison camp. They were released when Eric’s father’s bristle business was seen as beneficial to the war effort. The elder Lipetz knew the bristles of brushes made to clean guns could be crafted to cause rifles to misfire after a few uses and shared this knowledge with Filipino guerillas. The family was relocated to the outskirts of town providing them with a house for safety, but food was scarce, bombings were frequent and serious illness was rampant. But the family was committed to surviving – or perishing – together.
An American soldier, a candy bar and an unbreakable bond
A medical convoy of American soldiers led by Colonel John R. Hall, Jr. made its way into the town where the Lipetz family was living. The convoy stopped by their house, and Mr. and Mrs. Lipetz shared their story. This is where the lifelong friendship with Colonel Hall, and the Lipetz family began.
The family ate well after the soldiers’ arrival. A candy bar may have even helped Lipetz learn English. “One of the Americans asked me if I would like a Baby Ruth, and I thought he was offering me a child,” he recalled, chuckling. “To this day, I smile whenever I see one.”
Colonel Hall was instrumental in helping the Lipetz family attain visas to come to the United States after the war. Hall’s family was unaware of his role in assisting the Lipetz family and others in the Philippines until speaking with Pankoke.
“I promised Eric that I would help him locate the family of Colonel Hall,” said Pankoke. “This man went above and beyond his duties as an American serviceman, writing letters to Lipetz family members, and arranged for visas to the U.S., allowing them to get on an American ship bringing troops back home. Finding his family and making them aware of the Colonel’s actions is a shining example of the legacy of another man’s family that now has three generations. It also completes Eric’s story.”
March of the Living makes history come alive
Once in America, Lipetz started school at age 10, went to college, served in the U.S. Army, and worked on Wall Street. He became a citizen, married, had three children, and is the grandfather of five.
“Eric is actively involved in the March of the Living Southern Region, a proud program of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, where he shares his testimony with students,” said Roneet Edrich, director of the program. “First-hand testimony makes history come alive. We are so grateful to Eric and the other survivors in our community for generously sharing their testimony.”