Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today is...

...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.

11 comments:

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

Sherry Peyton said...

Thank you for this. We need to remember these stories, and remember the countless one's we probably will never hear.

CDP said...

Beautiful story.

Bubs said...

Oh man. Thanks

GETkristiLOVE said...

I admire everyone and anyone that made it through such an ordeal. I just can't imagine having that kind of will. Thanks for posting dguz.

kirby said...

When a woman who climbs mountains for fun calls someone else tough, I'd pay attention.

On a kind of related note, someone gave me a copy of "The Zookeeper's Wife." I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but I enjoyed it very much. It's a story of Poland during WWII, with a natural history angle.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What an incredible story. I cannot even imagine the courage that must have taken.

dguzman said...

Thanks, all of you.

FranIAm said...

A priest friend of mine does all sorts of things around this - he is dedicated to remembering what happened, preventing it from happening again and honoring all.

We do all need to remember the stories.

I have been to many places related to the Holocaust- Anne Frank's house, Dachau Concetration Camp, Yad Vashem in Israel, the Holocaust museum in DC. One of the most moving places was a Jewish museum in Berlin - Dcap and I went there. It was not even holocaust focused, but it was a heartbreaking reminder of how a culture came so close to being erased by hate.

This story, like others, moves the heart deeply.

Thank you for sharing it here, I am sorry I am so late to it.

Fantastic Forrest said...

I wish everyone had the opportunity to go to the Holocaust Museum in DC or hear from a speaker like the one you did. It is obscene that there are holocaust deniers.

disa said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.