Our obligation is to give meaning to life
and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.
Recently I had the privilege of listening to Eva Abrams tell her Holocaust story at the Criminal Justice Day in Batavia, NY sponsored by local community groups. The theme of the day was surviving and thriving after trauma. I have read accounts of the Holocaust and seen movies presenting various aspects of the events involved. Yet they seem to be fading from the memory and awareness of the public these days. This has happened despite their central place among the events of the twentieth century. This was the first time I have heard a live first hand account from a survivor’s own lips.
Ninety-two year old Eva made her way to her seat with the help of her walker. She sat next to her daughter Bonnie who helped her with translating certain words into English. She was born in 1926 in Oradea, Romania and was sent to Auschwit with her family when she was seventeen.
Eva shared her story of life in a ghetto, in Auschwitz and digging trenches as she struggled to stay alive after walking across Europe for forced labor digging trenches. All these years later, she is a vibrant articulate survivor who has risen from the ashes of her Holocaust experience and managed to reconstruct her life in a meaningful way.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to walk in her shoes. I have never come close to death especially under the gruesome conditions she endured. Would I have been able to find the physical and emotional strength to make it from one day to the next? If I did survive, how would I think of my experience in a way which might allow me to rebuild my life? I have heard it said that what does not kill you makes you stronger. I wonder what lies within a person to allow him or her to climb back from the brink of a horrible death and find a meaningful life.
I thought about this for several days after Eva’s presentation. How could anyone survive her ordeal? What could I learn from her life? How could her inspiration lead me to make more of a contribution to my fellow human beings? None of these questions has an easy answer. Yet it is not necessary to answer them to draw strength from her example.
I have had misfortunes and setbacks from time to time in my life although nothing which compares with Eva’s experience. Yet I have been able to learn a little about my own inner strength by learning from my challenges rather than letting them get the best of me. Eva had help at her most desperate moments and used that help to find new reserves of strength. I have learned to appreciate those who have been there in my time of need. I also plan to help others in their time of need whenever I can. What lessons can you draw from the stories of those you encounter in your life?