I hear these stories while standing at the bar. Im at a family celebration, sharing a lchaim with the grandparents of the bride/groom/Bar/ Bat Mitzvah, who are chatting and smiling, as proud grandparents should.
Then, Ill notice an unusual glint in their eye, glee mixed with defiance, and theyll whisper to me: You know, I shouldnt really be alive...they should have got me, but what happened was....
They tell me their story, how a remarkable convergence of persistence and luck allowed them to survive, rebuild and celebrate a simcha.
The generation of survivors is now again battling the angel of death, and I often hear these stories while preparing a eulogy. Each time a survivor dies, I am reminded that without them the Jewish community is smaller, weaker and duller. Their families, their communal involvement, and their link to European Jewry contribute immeasurably in reconstructing our world after the Holocaust.
To me, the survivors teach more than history; they teach character. Many survived due to incredible, impossible adventures. In each adventure, the survivors character is critical. They did the impossible because they had chutzpah, tenacity and optimism. Their stories teach me the importance of determination, a lesson significant for anyone whos ever faced failure and disappointment.
Its easy to give up. Our societys abundance of comfort has an unfortunate side effect: it makes people soft. Were so used to success that we cant cope with adversity. Personal, relationship and business difficulties often end with people giving up. We are easily discouraged.
Quitting wasnt an option for the survivors. One told me I just wanted to live. It may seem like a pointless comment; everyone wants to live! But when a survivor makes this remark, it speaks volumes about personal determination. This man refused to give up against overwhelming odds. Others surrendered; some even walked into electrified fence to end their suffering. But the survivors persevered, clinging to life when it seemed absurd. To me, endless determination is the survivors greatest legacy.
Life is like walking up the down escalator. We all have disappointments that pull us down. The survivors climbed up an impossible escalator, and made it to the top.