...Holocaust Remembrance Day. Are you doing anything special to mark the occasion? I'm not much of a history scholar; I leave that to brilliant people like DCap. But I do have a little story to tell you on this day of remembrance.
Back when I was an English instructor at Tarrant County Junior College (now Tarrant County College), some of my colleagues got together and applied for the opportunity to be an official site for the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII. They put together all sorts of great educational programs and guest lectures, including a talk by a woman who was a survivor of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution." (I wish I could remember her name, but I can't.)
She was a lovely woman, medium height, slender. I'd guess she was in her 50s. She talked her about her experience and that of her family in one of the Reich's concentration camps. Shortly after her family was arrested, she was separated from her parents and never saw them again, but for a time she was in the same barracks as her younger sister.
At that time in my life, I hadn't visited the Holocaust Museum or done much more learning about WWII than what I saw in history classes. Schindler's List and Life Is Beautiful weren't yet made, but I had seen films in high school showing the piles of shoes, eyeglasses, gold fillings and teeth, etc. that the Nazis collected from the Jews they imprisoned. Still--I had never met or even seen anyone who had lived through the ordeal until I heard this woman speak.
She told of how, despite the cold, all the women were given just one cotton dress to wear. Her sister had been in the infirmary for some ailment at the time when the dresses were distributed, so she didn't get one. The speaker told us she removed her dress and gave it to her sister; during a German winter, this woman went nude for weeks before her captors deigned to give her another dress.
After a while, her sister became ill again and went to the infirmary; the speaker never saw her sister again after that.
By the time the Nazis began abandoning the camps after realizing their defeat was inevitable, the woman was deathly ill, wasted from hunger and malnourishment, but alive. She said that was her shining achievement: that she had lived through this experience, while Hitler had not. She said she stayed alive for her family, even though she never saw most of them again.
I'm thinking of her today, thinking of her struggle to survive, her ability to endure unimaginable torment. I'm pondering the strength of character it must've taken for her to go on, day after day, instead of just doing something to make a guard shoot her, just to make it all end.
The human spirit is an amazingly powerful force.