My Father-in-law spoke in Washington this week.
Holocaust Remembrance Day.
He is a survivor, historian and regular speaker at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. He was asked to give a short talk at the SEC. I went along. I have heard him speak many times, but hearing him speak publicly is always a special treat that’s hard to pass up. He is in his 80s and I don’t know how much longer he is going to feel up to these excursions. But there he was, dapper as ever, with a discreet American flag pin on his lapel.
The SEC, Securities Exchange Commission had a full house with an overflow room and the talk was televised to offices in several other locations. While we waited for everyone to get seated I glanced around the room at all the Brooks Brothers suits and carefully coiffed women. They all looked friendly and open. Nice.
My father-in-law gave a recount of his life just before the war, during Hitler‘s regime and his time in concentration camps. The audience was as riveted as they always are. I have heard the stories, read the books so many times that they have lost the “punch in the stomach” effect on me.
The men from his hometown, Warsaw Poland, forced inside cattle cars,traveling for days, not knowing their destination. The heat unbearable, no water never mind food. The arrival in concentration camp. Getting off the train to the barking of dogs and Nazis who shot anyone who staggered or tried to run. The death selection lines they passed through. Who shall live and work and who shall go ahead to the human ovens for immediate extermination like so many pests. Horrifying. Imagine your own husband, brother or son going through such a process. The women experienced much the same and the children..
So I sat and listened to him recount, and stand witness. I have read his memoirs, his published book, I knew what he told these privileged people was but a glimpse of the nightmare he lived.
Then he told of the last time he spoke to his father,before they knew the horrors that awaited them. He was a boy in his teens. His father blessed him and said, “My son, there are very hard times coming. You will have to be very strong.” My father in law’s voice broke down with the memory of this last exchange. He brought his hand to his mouth. The audience waited. He gathered himself together and continued. “It was the last time I saw my father.”
I heard gasps behind me. I turned to see a man wiping his eyes.
I think if my father-in-law’s father could see his only child that survived the war and the time he spent in the concentration camps, who went on to marry and raise a family in America. A man who never lost his faith in God. A man who stands witness and consistently gathers the strength to go back to one of the world’s most terrible crimes, man against man, he would see his blessing came to fruition.
He would be so proud. My father-in-law was strong when he had to be, and continues to be strong because he chooses to be.
He is the model we live up to, the man we can only aspire to be like, with a strength beyond our understanding.
He is husband to one.
Father to five.
Grandpa to many,
and great-grandpa to a growing number of lucky little souls.
This is gmom,