Holocaust survivors fly from Portland area to D.C. to visit memorial museum

Les and Eva Aigner - Photo courtesy Vital Life Foundation

TUALATIN, Ore. - A Tualatin couple is sharing their harrowing holocaust survival stories ahead of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington, D.C.

In D.C., they’ll visit war memorials and the Holocaust Memorial Museum for the first time.

The couple, Les and Eva Aigner, met after surviving the holocaust. The two give great credit to the American soldiers who liberated the camps.

"It wasn't easy for them. They were young kids when they liberated us and saw the horror of Nazi Germany," Les said.

Next week, they’ll board a plane to D.C. alongside more than a dozen veterans. Two of those veterans served in World War II.

"We cannot forget that we are forever indebted to the American forces and to the American people for their sacrifice and ending the World War II,” Eva said, Les nodding in agreement.

The two survived different and disheartening childhoods.

Eva’s family lived in Czechoslovakia. She and her family moved to try and escape the incoming Nazis. They landed in Budapest, Hungary before Nazism had arrived. A few years later, the Nazis moved into town. Her dad was sent to a forced labor camp where he was murdered in 1944.

"I was seven years old. My sister was 15,” Eva explained the details. She was just a child, living through the horror. She and her sister got separated from their mother and were left to die in the Budapest Ghetto.

“We were lined up by the riverfront of the Danube,” Eva detailed. “The Hungarian Nazis eliminated the leftover people from the ghetto, the Jewish population, by shooting them into the river.”

Eva says she and her sister were moments away from being shot to death.

"We were coming up next, and [our mom] were able to bribe the guard with her wedding ring, and we were left out of the line, and we survived the rest of the war in the Budapest Ghetto," Eva said.

Les' fight to survive started at 15. "My story is a little bit different," He begins.

Les was separated from his older sister and dad and shipped to Auschwitz with his younger sister and mom. "That's where I saw them last time,” Les said, talking about his younger sister and mom.

His sister and mom died in gas chambers. He spent time in different camps, his strength getting him through.

His last camp was Dachau. "I was liberated 1945, April 29," Les said.

Just over a decade later, after meeting Eva, the two wed. They escaped to the United States together.

They’ve spent more than 60 years in love. A strong admiration for not only each other but also America.

"Because if it wasn't for the sacrifice, for the American soldiers, and the government, sending them to end the war, none of us would've survived," Eva said.

Now, as a part of the Journey of Heroes trip, they’ll head to Washington D.C. to visit the museum that shares their stories.

They’ll be joined by 13 veterans in all. The trip is put on by the Vital Life Foundation and the Wish of a Lifetime program.

The Vital Life Foundation’s mission “is to support organizations and programs that provide meaning and vitality in the lives of seniors and staff members living and working in senior care. Our foundation believes that when you meet people where they are on their aging journey, miracles can happen.”

The Wish of a Lifetime program was founded in 2008 and “aims to create a positive shift in the way society views and values aging by sharing the stories of its inspiring Wish recipients with those of all generations.”

The Aigners depart Monday.

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