Apr 01 2007

The Holocaust: A Survivor’s Lesson

Before I could reach that house, the man appeared again with a hatchet resting on his shoulder. “Stop! Where do you think you’re going?”

I was scared, but I tried not to show my fear. “You can do two things,” I said, looking straight at him. “You can kill me on this spot, or take me to the police station and get your bag of sugar.”

That’s a small excerpt of the Holocaust memoir I’ve been editing on behalf of a 77-year old survivor who long ago resettled with his wife in Vancouver. The project has given me a renewed sense of my own good fortune in being born in a time and place decidedly less hostile than the Third Reich’s eastern front.

The work has given me a renewed faith in the human spirit and the generosity of strangers. In the author’s own account of his own hard-won survival in the Ukrainian countryside in the midst of Nazi collaborators, it quickly becomes apparent that he simply could not have survived without the help of good people.

Hunted by his own countrymen, he lived only through the generosity of locals who could easily have been murdered in turn for helping him.

The world is still a fearful place where genocide still takes place. But it is also still a place where “triumph of the will” is a phrase that has meaning far different from what Adolf Hitler’s propagandists ever intended.

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