Holocaust survivor finally celebrates his bar mitzvah 76 years later

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WILMETTE, Ill. -- Harold Katz still remembers when he was 12 years old and preparing for his bar mitzvah while living in his home town in Czechoslovakia in 1941. Then before that day arrived, the Nazis came.

"They came at night and said, ‘get up.’ They took us to the synagogue in the middle of the night and in the morning the trucks came and took us away," remembered Katz, now 89 years old. "The trains were waiting, the trains took us to Poland... I’ll never forget."

After the war, Katz moved to the United States, met and married his wife Judy, herself a survivor of Auschwitz. He became builder and raised his family. And as the years went by his sons, his grandsons, all celebrated their bar mitzvahs. Something he never got a chance to do.

But it's never too late.

"I thought, 'right now is the time do it. I should have a memory of my bar mitzvah,'" Katz said Sunday.

Friends, family, and the entire community came together at Katz's bar mitzvah to mark his long and remarkable life.

"He’s always brought a lot of light into this world but for him that was always missing," said Rabbi Dovid Flinkenstein. "He never celebrated that moment and for him to mark that occasion today there are no words. It’s very emotional for the whole community."

The special day was made even more special by a torah scroll Katz commissioned, with more than 300,000 hand-written letters. It's the way the torah has been passed down traditionally for more than 3,300 years, said Rabbi Moshe Teldon of Chabad of Wilmette.

"It took the scribe 11 months to finish it, and today we’re finishing the last 100 letters in Wilmette in what began a year ago in Israel," Teldon said.

Katz's children and grandchildren said they were proud to come together to celebrate the milestone 76 years in the making.

"I can’t imagine what my grandfather is feeling right now. Never having the opportunity to do anything like this," said grandson Yoni Butbul.

"People are really really excited," Teldon said. "The whole community is coming together. It’s a celebration of family. It’s a celebration of the continuity of Judaism," he said.

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