Today I was privileged to sit among the children of Levine Academy in Dallas to listen to Stan Siegal present the story of his parents, Joseph and Anna Siegal who survived the holocaust and came to America to rebuild their lives.
As the number of survivors still alive dwindles, it becomes ever more difficult and ever more important, to try to portray the horror and significance of this episode in history - for us as Jews and for the world at large. But to speak of it in numbers and historical facts fails miserably to convey that horror and that significance. As Adam Smith might have said, it only becomes real when one hears of real people with names, with dreams and hopes for the future whose lives were disrupted and exploded by unimaginable violence. Certainly when speaking to young children, statistics and dates mean nothing until one peoples them with human beings who have faces. Stan told the story of his parents in a way that could reach these young minds and hearts.
Judaism unequivocally exhorts us to "choose life" The story of Stan's parents is about how they chose life after Anna survived years of slave labor in the gulag of Siberia and Joseph survived years in the woods of Poland with other camp escapees. Though all of Anna's family miraculously survived, all of Joseph's family, his siblings, his parents, were murdered. They met in a displaced persons camp after the war and Joseph married Anna there and also married her family, having lost all of his own family. Their first child was born in the camp. They were not alone in marrying and building a family there.
Consider what it means for people who have endured such suffering and loss to pick themselves up and dedicate their energies to the building of a new life, a new family. The Siegals emigrated to the U.S. and today Stanley and his wife Janet live here in Dallas with two of their three children and three of their five grandchildren who attend Levine academy.
There are many stories like this. They occur against the backdrop of the times. I learned from Stan about the displaced persons (DP) camps (1945 - 1959) that contained at least 500,000 Jews (a pitiful remnant of the Jewish communities of Europe) and many others. Many ordinary soldiers and civilians dedicated their lives during that time to caring for and training these survivors. And (whatever his reasons) President Truman responded to the existence of these camps by achieving a dramatic change in U.S. immigration policy to enable many of those survivors to enter the United States. Decades earlier the waves of European immigration had been stopped and many who perished in the Holocaust might have been saved had that not been so. But after the war, at least the survivors were welcomed.
(I can't help thinking of Syrian Christian refugees in the here and now and how we could be instrumental in saving them).
These survivors who came to the U.S. built successful lives and careers and their children and grandchildren are among America's most successful. They enriched not only themselves but untold numbers who benefited from the value they added.
Other DP survivors went to Israel, where a sizable local Jewish population welcomed them, to England, France (and other W. European countries), South America, Australia and South Africa.
As we remember the dead, let us celebrate the living.