“I am from Auschwitz,” proclaimed Sam, when I asked him where he was from.
How do you argue with a statement like that?
Especially coming from someone who had just moments before, told me that he had never even had a chance to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. War and the Holocaust took him from being a boy to being an adult without adolescence in between. Sam never got a chance to know what it meant to be a free-spirited teenager.
I met Sam in 1998, not long after he had broken his self-imposed silence regarding the war years. Talking about those memories had been too painful. However, it came a point where keeping his silence was even more painful. So Sam began to tell his story to the world.
Indeed, Sam was not being poetic when said he was from Auschwitz. He was from a small town in Poland called OÊwiecim which the Germans later called Auschwitz. After the German invasion, he watched as the large local Polish military installation was transformed into what later became known as the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
Sam tells his story of the torture, pain and humiliation he endured from the Nazis. The human mind is extremely resilient and will conform to all sorts of situations when need be, and the Nazis exploited this to their advantage. Sam describes how his dignity was robbed from him: “They dehumanized us,” Sam would say. “We were reduced to basic survival instincts. There was no mother, there was no father, all we were thinking was… where will we get our next piece of bread? Later when the war was over the question was: Will we ever be able to experience emotions? Will we ever be able to love or even cry?”
Sam is one of my personal heroes. Not only because of what he went through during the war, but because of what he has managed to create of his life after the war. Sam and his wife, who is also a survivor, managed to build a beautiful family, despite their experiences of the painful past. Sam is now a loving father, grandfather and great grandfather.
I can still hear Sam’s voice today as he told it to me fourteen years ago: “They dehumanized us.” It helps me acknowledge the miracle of his rebirth into a beautiful human – a human with love, compassion, sadness and joys. Despite the horrors that he witnessed, he still has a proud faith in G d. If you’ll attend a Shabbat morning service at Chabad of Sunny Isles in the winter when he is in town, you will see him there with his prayer shawl connecting with his Creator with love. He triumphed over the Nazis.
Rabbi Yisrael Baron resides in Sunny Isles Beach with his wife and five children. He is the Spiritual Leader and Co-Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Sunny Isles Beach, http://www.sunnychabad.org/ Co-Director of www.iVolunteerFL.org Chaplain for Aventura Hospital, and Chaplain for the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department.