by Christine Ege
A little more than seventy-five years after the end of World War II, the number of living Holocaust survivors is naturally diminishing. Their stories are being recorded by museums and other institutions committed to remembering a particularly sordid chapter in history. “Why remember such heinous atrocities?” we might well ask. However, the fact remains that failure to learn the lessons of history often results in repeating the same mistakes. Attempting to deny unpleasant or even abhorrent episodes in the lives of individuals or the history of nations does not remove the consequences of those painful periods. In fact, bulldozing the ruins of concentration camps or erasing facts we prefer not to confront serves only to short-circuit personal development and the maturing of our national ethos.
In remembering the Holocaust, we often associate the term hero with rescuers and liberators who defied all odds to assist those who were persecuted and tortured by the Nazis. Those individuals were certainly heroic, as it took obedience (in some cases to military commands) and tremendous personal courage to undertake the right course of action in defiance of the Nazi regime.
However, careful attention to the stories of survivors also exposes the often unsung heroism of their individual lives. They persevered despite hunger, sustained hope in the face of torture, and shared their meager rations with others. Some smuggled supplies or secretly transmitted information where needed; some hid in forests, fields, or barns; others scratched out poetry or family recipes on the walls of concentration camp barracks. Each survivor has a story, and each one’s story tells a tale of incredible resilience despite sustained and seemingly insurmountable adversities.
As Holocaust survivors complete the final chapters of the lives here on earth, their bravery and perseverance speak hope to our current generation. In our contemporary culture, we find ourselves beleaguered by a global pandemic, natural disasters, vociferous political conflicts, human trafficking, and economic turmoil. Certainly those who survived the Holocaust can inspire us today. If they survived persecution, imprisonment, torture, personal loss, and the tumult of war, surely we can overcome our challenges as well.
A dear friend who survived the Holocaust as a child, including the murder of both his parents, and labored diligently to build a new life outside his homeland is currently experiencing health challenges. Ironically, as he has grown weaker, the power of his work ethic, love of life, and determination to carve out a fresh legacy have risen to the surface. That legacy stands in stark defiance of the destruction wrought on his family by the past. In my book, this untiring crusader ranks very clearly in the hero class, as he never lost hope and continued to summon the courage to press forward, despite all odds. May his courage serve as a model for us all!