WWII vet, concentration camp survivor meet in San Rafael for lunch


It's been said that if time doesn't heal all wounds it certainly helps to ease the pain. Now at 89, retired Army Col. Ralph Cole might attest to that. He told us, "I still wake up at night thinking about it."

At 84, Herbert Heller can speak to it as well. He said, "It took me 40 or 50 years before I really wanted to talk about it."

They are two Marin County men with a shared experience who have lived within a few miles of each other for 38 years and never met until Monday.

In 1944, Cole helped liberate the first concentration camps. Heller had been in those camps and lucky enough to escape the dreaded experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. The experiences scarred both men for most of their lives.

"In my dreams, I would see this doctor in front of me and still trying to remember my father and my older brother who I lost and never came back," said Heller.

"The bodies were piled in a warehouse with lye on them. The Germans hoped the bodies would disintegrate," said Cole.

The two men met through their doctor -- a man who cares about the life histories of his patients. Heller came to the states at 17 years old with just $10 in his pocket. He built a successful business selling cribs and strollers to new parents.

Cole stayed in the reserves while working as an executive for AT&T, but Monday's meeting wasn't about accomplishments. Instead, it was about empathy and mutual understanding for two men from a disappearing generation.

Freedman: "So who wants to listen anymore?"
Cole: "No one."

Someone did today.

"It brings back the past, but it's in a pleasant way, this time," said Heller.

There were two men in their eighth decades at a first meeting. Would it be just lunch?

"As far as I'm concerned, he is going to be my lifetime friend," said Cole.

As we can see, sometimes after a lifetime, it's instantaneous.

Copyright © 2023 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.