It has been 60 years since he was rescued from the Nazis and six months since he had a well-publicized reunion with the stranger who saved his life.
Michael Hartogs, a 65-year-old Falls Church man, has used these months to learn more about his past and the man who saved him from a train on its way to Auschwitz on the morning of Oct. 30, 1942.
On that day, the Nazis rounded up Belgian Jews, including 14-year-old Leon Schipper, and about 50 other children at the Wezembeek orphanage outside Brussels. They were sent to a barbed-wire transfer station to await trains to concentration camps.
Meanwhile, orphanage director Marie Blum-Albert appealed successfully to the Belgian royal family to help spare the orphans.
As they waited for a truck to return them to safety, one of the orphans, Schipper, passed a room where six youngsters had been separated from their parents, who were bound for the camps. Seeing no German guards, Schipper made a split-second decision.
"Let's grab those kids and take them with us," he told the older boys with him. Each took a child and continued to the truck that would return them to the orphanage.
Schipper grabbed a round-faced 4-year-old boy named Max Kohn. For the next month or so, Schipper was the only parent Max knew, even though they spoke different languages and couldn't communicate well.
After a year of searching and an international sleuthing effort by the Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Center in Baltimore, Schipper, now 75, tracked down and contacted Max Kohn, now known as Hartogs. They met again -- this time as gray-haired men -- last December.
Schipper and his wife, Elise, live in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles, where they raised a family. He is a retired rocket scientist.
Hartogs and his wife, Joan, run a documentary film distribution company and live in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County.
Hartogs, who remembers little about those days in Belgium and nothing about his miraculous escape, said he has spent the past six months traveling and reading and learning about his past.
"We're piecing things together. It's just amazing," Hartogs said. "You hear good stories and sad stories, and it fills in the gaps."
He and his wife have traveled back to Belgium and have looked up others who were in the same orphanage. They even visited Wezembeek, which is now a home for troubled juveniles. He said one of his fellow orphans walked him through the old building and showed him where the old temple used to be.
"He was bar mitzvahed there," Hartogs said.
He also tried to track down the one boy whose name and photo he did remember. But after months of following his trail, it ended in disappointment. That person died a few years ago, penniless and alone.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the past few months is the growing friendship between him and Schipper.
After flying to Los Angeles to meet Schipper, Hartogs returned the hospitality. Just last week Schipper was a guest at the Hartogs's beach house in Rehoboth, Del. And Hartogs went and visited Schipper's sister in Baltimore.
"We're very close. I can't pinpoint it," Hartogs said. "I guess there's a special bond between us. We understand. It's like family.''