Several days ago, I posed the question, "What's Inside The Box?" asking how it is that some people find the inner strength to survive and even thrive under extraordinary challenges, while others crumble under the strain.
During the three days spent in the presence of 90-something Holocaust survivors earlier this week, I did my my best to spend quality time with as many of them as possible, trying to figure out what allowed them to wake up each morning amid the sub-human conditions and backbreaking labor.
It was fascinating to notice how each one of them had an "elevator pitch" -- a short, unique response to that question, even though, truth be told, it often took 10-15 minutes until they expressed it.
One woman spoke of her mother's final words to her as she left the ghetto for the work camp -- that she must survive so their entire family won't get wiped out. Another mentioned that he swore to himself that he would one day testify against his oppressors. He memorized every minute detail for years, and upon liberation testified at the trials of 14 SS members.
A moment that will remain etched in my mind forever, took place as we walked under the infamous, iconic, "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign at the entrance to Auschwitz Camp #1. A Polish survivor, who was deported in 1939 and one of the most soft-spoken people in the group, squared his shoulders, stood ramrod straight, and said, "Rudolf (Höss; commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp); Ich bin du!!" (I am here!!).
He then broke down completely and said he had waited seventy years to say that. I suspect it was more like 76 years.
Here are 2 short videos I recorded in Auschwitz on Monday. This was the survivors saying Kaddish in Auschwitz: http://youtu.be/UEfZTNQIugA, and shortly thereafter they began an impromptu rendition of Hatikvah. https://t.co/FB06lxCfNA Regardless of your background, the spirit, resiliency & determination of these survivors is just breathtaking.
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