I was at a brunch last Sunday that celebrated the 25th anniversary of an organization founded by child survivors of the Holocaust. It was filled with people and food, memories and determination, laughter and love, persistence, perseverance, pride. Twenty-five years since they came together finding meaning and comfort in being among their own. Twenty-five years since they banded and bonded to tell their stories to whoever would listen, to be living witnesses to words that are too often just paragraphs in history books, to teach the multiple lessons this horror had taught them.
They call themselves: The Child Survivors/Hidden Children of the Holocaust.
For their definition a child survivor is simply one who was a child during the Nazi years of planned extermination of the Jews of Europe. They lived in any number of settings from concentration camps to forests, from attics to cellars. Some were hidden by righteous gentiles, some hid themselves in places we can’t even imagine, all survived by a miracle that is theologically unsound. Depending who you ask, it was luck; it was God. This they do know: “Anachnu Po – We are here”, the first words spoken even before the blessing over the bread, opening the buffet. This they do know: they are dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, one and a half million of them children. This they do know: they are committed to telling their stories so that the listener will know: “all people deserve to live in peace and in safety”. (their own words).
Steven Hayes, developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy opens a Ted Talk, I recently watched with these words: “Life asks us questions. And probably one of the most important questions it asks is what are you going to do about your difficult thoughts and feelings …” Here is how I filtered his words. We make a choice in how we respond to what life throws at us – not necessarily an easy one, but a choice nonetheless. For me this coming together was all about choosing life. Choosing to live even after life itself had been vicious and cruel. Choosing to live even though all that you loved was ripped away, torn apart and burned.
The tables were round and they were full. The woman sitting to the left of me was not a child Survivor. She was born in a DP (Displaced Person) camp set up after the concentration camps were “opened”. It was an act of defiance and faith to have children at that moment in time. It meant you would not give Hitler any semblance of victory. And children point you forward towards the future, towards new life, new love. (Full disclosure, I know to use the terminology “opened” and not “liberated” because the person to the right of me was my wife, Eileen, former Holocaust Program Planner for Palm Beach County Schools. She taught me that the first concentration camps were actually stumbled upon and not knowingly liberated. (Let’s remember history as accurately as we can.)
It is several days since I digested (both figuratively and literally) the speeches, the songs, the dancing, the food, the joy. I am holding on to it. The author of Proverbs wrote, the human spirit is the lamp of God. I found a tremendous spirit at that brunch. Does that mean I also found God?