[12/29/09 Update:  Be sure to read Tony Prada’s comment at the end of the post. His initial thought, he wrote, was to move on to the next blog but once he started, he "became engulfed with the memoirs" and his "normal 5 minute stop at the blog morphed into 3 hours."  Tony shared with us some very important "takeaway" messages that I commend to you.]

As incredible as my Mother’s story of survival is, as related in this previous post, my Father’s stories stand apart.  In his 1995 interview with the USC Shoah Foundation, just two years before he died, he vividly retells his experiences before, during, and after the Holocaust.  Born in 1911, he was the first in his family to pursue secular study.  He graduated from Univ. of Krakow medical school, experienced violent antisemitism at many turns along the way, and was enlisted as a physician and captain in the Polish army when the war broke out.  He tended to hundreds of Polish soldiers while on the frontlines during the Nazi blitzkrieg and to thousands in the Warsaw Ghetto through the uprising of 1943.  He survived 5 Nazi concentration camps following the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The "death march" to Dachau in 1945 put him "one step, not even that, ahead of the angel of death."  Following his liberation, he worked closely with teams from the US Armed Forces to establish and manage a number of hospitals and TB clinics for survivors. His hard and selfless work earned him not only accolades, but a Visa to the US, where he immigrated in 1949.  He eventually settled in Syracuse, NY, and built a medical practice that thrived–notwithstanding a severe heart attack that nearly killed him in 1961–until he finally retired in 1984.

My Dad’s proud, fighting spirit is on magnificent display in this interview, which is split into eight segments (video links embedded at the end of this post):

For those seeking excellent educational tools to teach about the experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust, you’ll find them in the oral testimonies of my parents. I hope this personalizes the survivors’ experiences in a way that provides additional insight into their indomitable spirit, as this University of Texas at Austin "forgiveness and resilience study" proves. 

One theme that resonates throughout their interviews is how they viewed their survival as a result of not just one "miracle," but many. As we ponder in this holiday season of miracles the meaning of life, I hope my parents’ stories inspire you to find meaning and purpose each day. 

Happy holidays to all!

[The embedded photo is, of course, the famous "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" sign that was recently stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp.  According to this Wikipedia source, the political prisoners who constructed the sign made the upper bowl in the "B" of "ARBEIT" wider than the lower bowl as an act of defiance and to signal what was really going on there.]

Here are embedded links to each of the eight parts of my Dad’s interview:Continue Reading Surviving with Dignity – Part II: My Father’s Reflections on the Holocaust, Pre-War Poland, and a Life Rebuilt from the Ashes

[12/24/09 Update:  Part II – My Father’s Reflections on the Holocaust, Pre-War Poland, and a Life Rebuilt from the Ashes]

To most Americans, this month is a reminder of miracles, great and small.  For Christians, Christmas lights are a reminder that "[a]t the moment when the darkness of human society is at its deepest, the Light of the World will come."  For Jews, Chanukah’s lights are a reminder of the miracles of creation (light), of Mt. Sinai (where the Torah–likened to light–was delivered), and of the Second Temple’s restoration and rededication in 164 BCE.  Chanukah’s most conspicuous tradition–the Menorah–provides a simple, yet effective, reminder of the importance of rekindling and rededicating within ourselves the moral values represented by the light of creation (representing our partnership with the Almighty) and the light of the Torah (representing the moral precepts for everyday living).

This year, more than ever, my thoughts turn to two miracles that are very personal to me: those being both my parents’ survival from the hell known as the Holocaust.  These thoughts were triggered this year by this recent short film from Richard Bloom and Karen Lynne Bloom that retells, through clips taken from the survivors’ oral histories on file at the USC Shoah Foundation library (including my Dad’s), the story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of Passover, 1943So this year, I decided to dedicate two blog posts in remembrance of the miracle of their survival.

This first post features my Mom’s oral history, split into four parts (video links embedded at the end of this post):

Long time followers of this blog may remember my Mom’s sudden passing in August, 2006 and this post of the eulogy I delivered where I summed up her essence (or Emes) as follows:

The proof of my mother’s greatness is not readily apparent, is it?  She received no awards.  No inscribed silver chalices or platters.  No dinners were sponsored in her honor.  No buildings named after her.  No honorariums established in her name. Seems quite an ordinary life. Yet, when we closely examine her life story, even in a brief eulogy, it resonates with a feeling that somehow, it was “meant to be,” as she often liked to say….

The first chapter, the “Formative Years,” were pastoral; indeed, idyllic.  Her memories are only happy and positive.  And the optimism and independence her parents and grandparents nurtured within her during the enlightened interwar period remained with her to the end, and very much defined the Emes of who she was.  

But those idyllic days passed quickly, and war overtook them, and imprinted within her an indelible mark… that of a survivor.  And to listen to her stories, and few have done so, is something you have to do.  They are stories you have to hear to believe, for there are none others like them.  But let me sum it up this way.  When my mother reached the fork in the road, to quote the famous philosopher Yogi Berra, she took it.  She didn’t turn around, she didn’t freeze.  She didn’t second guess herself and run.  No, she knew when there was a fork in the road, and she took it, wherever it may lead.  And it was by making those tough, smart, spontaneous decisions, by choosing a path and not looking back, when coupled with the ample blessings with which G-d protected her, that her choices were transformed into something that seemed “meant to be.”

In a world of fallen heroes, my Mom’s story of survival proves that there’s a potential hero in all of us.  And for the millions out there feeling despondent, I hope her story (and my Dad’s soon to follow) proves the importance of maintaining dignity and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Happy holidays to all! 

[The inset picture is a fused glass, entitled "Remember—One for Each Million."  It’s origin is described in this feature story about The University of Texas at Austin’s "forgiveness and resilience study" for the 10th anniversary of the Holocaust Museum Houston.  In it, Professor Roberta Greene studied the lives of 133 survivors and concluded (no surprise here) :

Amazingly, this unique group of older adults—who experienced unprecedented separation and loss during the Holocaust, living through horrors most of us cannot imagine—built new productive lives. They are resilient survivors who were able to move into a better place, raise families, develop careers and contribute to their communities.]

Here are embedded links to each of the four-parts of my Mom’s interview:Continue Reading Surviving With Dignity – Part I: Reflections of My Mother on How She Miraculously Survived the Holocaust and Rebuilt Her Life