Chaim Shapiro has plenty of stories about his experiences in Europe and the Soviet Union during World War II.
One of the stories involves a man named Ludwik Seidenman. Shapiro, a 68-year-old Pikesville resident, says Seidenman saved his life with a compassionate act amid the war's horrors.
This weekend, the two will meet at Seidenman's New York home for their first face-to-face encounter in 49 years.
"It's unbelieveable. It just came out of a blue moon," Shapiro says of the way the two men found each other after five decades. "I've thought of him often, but I figured he'd be dead by now."
Seidenman, 84, is in fact alive and well, and still practicing law up to six days a week in Manhattan.
Their scheduled reunion came after Seidenman read "Go, My Son," Shapiro's autobiographical work about his wartime adventures. Published in 1989 by the Feldheim company of New York and Jerusalem, the 500-page volume has become a best-seller in Jewish book circles.
Last July, Seidenman sent a fan letter of sorts to Shapiro. The two have since phoned each other a few times. They will meet at 11 a.m. Sunday. Shapiro and members of his family, including his wife, Hadassa, had already arranged to be in New York this weekend for a wedding.
"Go, My Son" describes a brief but critical encounter between Shapiro and Seidenman during the war.
They first met in the Soviet town of Kuybishev in 1942. At the time, Shapiro was a young Jewish Pole on the run, trying to stay a step ahead of the Nazis. After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, he had heeded his mother's advice to flee eastward (her last words to him supplied the title of his book). He never saw his parents or three brothers again. All perished during the war.
Shapiro was traveling in 1942 with a Red Army outfit in Kuybishev, where Western nations had moved their embassies out of fear that the Germans would take the capital in Moscow. Shapiro was hoping to join the Soviet forces so he could kill Nazis. But when he learned that he would be assigned to work in the Soviet oil fields, he opted to leave his outfit and search for the Polish Embassy. His new plan was to join the army of his native country.
Wandering around Kuybishev, Shapiro knew that if was picked up by Soviet policemen or Red Army soldiers and did not have the proper papers, he could be shot.
He managed to locate the Polish Embassy, and after nearly getting thrown out by a rude receptionist, he was sent to an embassy official called "Dr. Seidenman." According to Shapiro, "Dr." was a title of respect in Europe for lawyers.
Seidenman, also a Polish Jew, took pity on Shapiro and got him a letter of recommendation from the embassy's top military officer.
"He didn't have to do that, but he felt bad for me," Shapiro says. "He wanted to help me out. If I'd left the embassy without that letter, I'm sure I would have walked outside and been arrested for not having any documentation on me. The Soviets would have thought I was a spy or a deserter if I was carrying no papers. You know what they did with those guys? They shot 'em! So that's why I say Seidenman saved my life."
Later, Seidenman would help get Shapiro a more authoritative document, a Polish passport.
By war's end, Shapiro had joined the Red Army and then served as a tank commander in the Polish Army. It had been a long journey for a young man who was a meek yeshiva student when the war began.
Seidenman, who had been imprisoned by the Soviets around 1940 and freed a year later, stayed with the Polish Embassy in Moscow during the war.
He eventually moved to New York and opened his law practice in 1958. His clients have included Alexander Kerensky, the head of the provisional Russian government that was swept away by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917; the wife of the pianist Arthur Rubenstein; the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America; and Svetlana Stalin, daughter of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
In a phone interview, Seidenman says he was given "Go, My Son" earlier this year by a friend who informed the lawyer that he was featured in the book.
"It was very good, very truthful and factually accurate, I found," Seidenman says of the book. "I was very pleased that he [Shapiro] remembered me positively. I think that on Sunday we will have a very friendly meeting."
Reminded that Shapiro credits Seidenman with saving his life, Seidenman says quietly, "I'm delighted."