For Herman and Janet Zeitchik, the chance to visit the White House and attend the State of the Union address last week as guests of President Donald Trump was a chance like no other.
“Who would not go? The president of the United States wanted us,” said Janet Zeitchik, 87, when reached by phone. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Zeitchiks live in Silver Spring. Herman Zeitchik, 94, was one of the three World War II veterans invited. He has Parkinson’s, which makes it difficult for him speak. So, Janet spoke to the JT for him.
“It was amazing,” she said. “We knew Herman was going to be up in the gallery, but we had no idea he was going to be talked about twice.”
He has been heavily involved in World War II veterans’ affairs, which is why Holly Rotondi, the executive director of Friends of the National World War II Memorial recommended him as a guest when the White House called her for suggestions, Janet Zeitchik said.
Herman Zeitchik dropped out of high school at 18 to join the U.S. Army. He participated in several major battles, including D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Dachau.
During the liberation of Dachau, Herman surprised several of the prisoners by revealing that he was Jewish. He gave them a military-issued Bible as something to remember him by, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Holocaust survivor Joshua Kaufman, who was also invited to the address, had a connection with Zeitchik despite the two having never met before. He was one of the prisoners that Herman Zeitchik helped free in the Allied liberation of Dachau.
“Herman had a Bible [with him],” Janet said. “He opened it up and Joshua and his daughters started to sing in Hebrew from the Bible. It’s a Bible that Herman has had since his Army days.”
“We got to know Joshua and his daughters very well,” she added. “He was very friendly. And he kept telling people how thankful he was and thanking God for bringing himself to this point. It was a very emotional day.”
Being at the speech was important to the couple.
“It represented a lot because of his story,” Janet said. “I think it represented a story written over and over.”
Janet said she and Herman have been “bombarded” by phone calls and requests for interviews since his appearance at the State of the Union. on Feb. 5. “It’s wonderful,” Janet said.
Over the years, Herman Zeitchik has been honored, including as chevalier, or knight, in the French Legion of Honor, one of the highest awards in France. He has been honored by the restaurant Mission BBQ in Columbia, and received an honorary degree in 2014 from his high school in Linden, New Jersey. At the end of the interview, he took the phone back.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” he said.
Samantha Cooper is a reporter at Washington Jewish Week, a sister publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.