Stories of refugees seeking asylum around the world are often harrowing journeys of despair and anguish. But, at least for some refugees, their traumatic stories unfold and then converge years later to become stories of tremendous hope and generosity.
One such case is the story of two couples: Rouben and Violet Jiji and Albert and Doris Czinn, each undaunted in overcoming extreme hardship, to not only survive, but to prosper and ultimately bring good to the world. Although several years apart, their stories were uncannily similar and then eventually woven together at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).
The Jiji’s Story
The Jij’s story begins in the 1920s when both Rouben and Violet Jiji grew up in poor families in Iran and Iraq. They met while attending the same Iraqi medical school and were married soon after graduation. It wasn’t long before they found themselves on separate journeys to an Israeli refugee camp. At the camp Rouben diagnosed and treated a young boy’s illness. Immensely grateful, the boy’s relatives learned of the couple’s dream to move to the U.S. and asked their American family members to sponsor the couple. The Jiji’s finally arrived in the U.S. after passing through several other countries, working to improve the health of others with every opportunity. Once in the U.S. they worked toward building successful careers as physicians. While they did not have children of their own, Violet had originally trained as a pediatrician. They took a keen interest in helping children and ultimately set up a foundation focused on helping children with medical ailments.
The Czinn’s Story
The Czinn’s story begins in Eastern Czechoslovakia (now part of the Ukraine) where both Albert V. Czinn and Doris Samanowitz lived until German occupation in the late 1930s. Albert ended up working in a slave labor camp. Doris ended up in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Amazingly both survived. Although they did not know each other at the time, each managed to escape into Austria by the mid-1940s where they met at a camp for displaced persons in Vienna. They were married at the camp in 1951 and were finally able to find a distant relative who lived in Cleveland, OH to take them in so they could come to the U.S. As new immigrants, they worked hard -- Albert in a lumber yard and then in food service, Doris as a seamstress. But they persevered and succeeded. They went on to have four children; two went on to become physicians, including Dr. Steven Czinn, who is currently Chair of Pediatrics at the UM SOM and Director of the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.
And that is where the two stories come together.
A Lasting Legacy
The foundation established by the Jiji’s, The Rouben and Violet Jiji Foundation, now stewarded by the Jiji’s longtime friend and advisor, Richard Hoffman, CPA and his wife, Stacy, has been a generous supporter of the University of Maryland School of Medicine over the years.
Last week, the Jiji's and Czinn families “came together” in spirit when the Jiji Foundation made a major gift to endow the professorship of Dr. Steven Czinn. He becomes the 42nd UM School of Medicine faculty member to have the distinction of being an endowed professor.
“When I heard the Jiji’s incredible story, it reminded me so much of my own parents – the hardships they went through and the perseverance to never, ever give up,” he said. “It resonated with me in a deep, emotional and personal way, especially since I and my wife Dr. Teri Kahn and our four children are similarly driven.”
“I am deeply honored to be the Rouben and Violet Jiji Foundation Professor of Pediatrics,” he added. “Although they did not know the Jiji’s, my late father would be so proud, as is my mother, to have me carry their name.”
Earlier in the year, the Jiji Foundation had made a generous gift to name the new Drs. Rouben and Violet Jiji Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. The new 37,000 square foot unit, triple the size of the previous NICU, is meeting the growing need for specialty care and innovative research to benefit the smallest and most fragile patients in a family-centered care environment.
In the new NICU, the Division of Neonatology in the UM SOM Department of Pediatrics, will provide a full range of state-of-the-art therapies for treating extremely premature and premature babies, including nutritional management, surgical interventions for birth defects including congenital heart disease, abdominal wall defects, cleft lip/palate repair, brain malformations, whole body cooling for neonatal encephalopathy, care of infants with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, and care of infants with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.
For the Jij’s and the Czinn’s, it is the result of years of hard work and perseverance and a relentless spirit that will have a lasting impact on helping children around the world.