Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Amazing people everywhere

The many faces of Anne Frank...
Yesterday I posted the only known video footage of Anne Frank that was taken a year before her family was forced into hiding. The video shows young Anne on the balcony of her parents home watching a wedding procession take place on the street below. If you do not know of my Anne Frank obsession you might be wondering why this is important. Let me fill you in. I read the Diary of Anne Frank in the 3rd grade. I was a bit progressive with my reading choices. That year I did a book report on Flowers in the Attic which my teacher deemed inappropriate. I also read Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a Dream" which was made into a book about his speach of the same name. These were all excellent books but Anne Frank touched my heart, even at 10 years old. Fast forward a few years and I read it her diary again in junior high because my sister's high school drama club was putting on the play. I was older now and frankly, the same age as Anne when she was forced into hiding. Anne's words touched me more with my 2nd reading and I was a lifelong fan. Over the years I read the diary again probably 10 more times. In 2005 I had an opportunity to travel to Amsterdam and the only thing I required from the entire trip was to visit Anne Frank's house (or place of hiding in this case). We walked a few miles across town, waited almost an hour to get in and I felt as if I had entered a cathedral as soon as my feet met the floor that Anne walked on. The entire experience was completely surreal for me. The house itself is cool but the place the family hid was just beyond words to me. I have read the diary enough to know about the church bells she can hear from the attic and the view of what she can see. It is amazing to KNOW you are standing where she stood. You are seeing what she saw. I heard the actual church bell that Anne could hear from her little place in the world. The cut-outs of movie stars that she talks about plastering her walls are real and they are still there. Everything is as her family left it. It was a truly amazing experience for me and one that I will never forget. Anne's actual diary is part of the museum. Shelly Winters' oscar for her 1955 portrail of Anne was donated to the house and is proudly displayed there. The very end of the house is a simulated concentration camp where you can get a name and follow your person through to see if you survive. I opted to not participate in that. There are a lot of graphic videos and stories to make you see what people really went through. It is sad to say but Anne Frank started my love of the holocaust. Not the event but the story of survival that comes from it. For the same reason I am a huge fan of black history and have ready countless slave based books.

The attic window where I stood...

My next stop to learn more about the holocaust was Schindler's List, which believe it or not I read last year and just saw the movie a few months ago. Oskar Schindler has an amazing story. The man started out trying to figure out a way to profit through the war. He only resorted to taking on Jewish slaves because the wages were less and he could make more. Saving Jews really came later for him. He didn't set out to be a hero. He really didn't even see himself as a hero. It wasn't until he made a lot of money that he realized what was happening to the people. He spent the next few years spending all that he had made to buy the freedom of "his" jews. He was not recognized in his life for the hundreds and thousands of jews that he saved (not to mention their offspring). He was actually condemned because he was considered to be running a labor camp. He died alone and penniless. What he did have was given to him by survivors and family of survivors. He embodies the quote engraved on the ring given to him by "his" jews upon their release, "Whoever saves one life saves the world entire." The prisoners made the ring themselves out of gold crowns pulled from their own mouths.

Oskar Schindler

Irena Sendler is another great example of courage under fire. Irena was a polish social worker who smuggled more than 2500 jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto. She smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. She kept the Jewish names of the children as well as their new adopted names in a glass jar in an effort to help reunite children with their parents after the war. Irena found foster homes in Polland, Germany and all around to take these children until the war ended. In 1943 Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death. ┼╗egota saved her by bribing German guards on the way to her execution. She was left in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she dug up the jars containing the children's identities and attempted to find the children and return them to their parents. However, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had gone missing otherwise. In 2007 Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has been honored in many countries since. In May 2009, Irena Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award.

Irena Sendler (2005)
Irena in 2005 with children she saved.

And now the real reason for this post! Yesterday when I posted the video footage of Anne Frank out of sheer excitement my cousin sent me a message to check out Dr. Edith Eva Eger. Holy, amazing story. It was 63 years ago this month that among a huge pile of corpses, a small hand moved slightly from beneath the rotting carnage. A U.S. soldier investigated and discovered the hand was attached to the 40-pound unconscious body of a teenager. Barely 17 years old, this tortured daughter of murdered parents was transferred to a hospital in Czechoslovakia. There she was treated for a broken back and other injuries - and fell in love with a Czech freedom fighter hospitalized for tuberculosis. While she was still in a cast, new life was conceived. Doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy. "They told me I was too weak to ever carry a child," she recalls. But after spending a year surrounded by death, the life force rose triumphant from the ashes. In 1947, Marianne was born. Today, Marianne Engle is a prominent psychologist and a professor at New York University who dined in Stockholm last December with the Swedish Royal Family at the Novel Laureate Banquet. The ballet and gymnastic lessons Edith Eger began at age four became her ticket to survival. Upon arrival in Auschwitz on the same transport as Elie Wiesel, Dr. Mengele immediately sent her parents to the gas chambers. He kept their daughter barely alive as a subject for his notorious medical experiments - and for his own amusement. She had trained to be a concert ballerina. Rather than performing in grand halls throughout Europe as she had once dreamed, the emaciated teenager from Kassa, Hungary, instead performed pirouettes and cartwheels to entertain Mengele and his murderous minions. Although the Nazis decimated her family and physically broke her back, Edith Eger left Europe penniless - too proud to apply for reparation funds from the German government - but otherwise intact. When she, her husband and 2-year-old Marianne arrived in New York, they lived in the Bronx with an aunt who warned them not to mention the Holocaust. In those days, having been in a concentration camp was a badge of shame. When they moved to Baltimore where her sister was living, Edith did piecework in a factory. There she deliberately used the "Colored" bathroom. Eventually, the Eger family (another daughter and son were born in the U.S.) moved to Texas where Edith's formal education resulted in a doctorate degree in psychology while her husband became a C.P.A. Because she so readily identifies with the underdog, Edith Eger has devoted her life to freedom fighting. (Freedom from fear, from anger and from unresolved grief, she says.) Eger marched with martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, and joined with Tibetans in a march to free Tibet. In 1985, she was invited to New Zealand by then Prime Minister David Russell Lange as a keynote speaker to honor Righteous Gentiles and she ahs spoken to the families of the victims of the Murrach Building bombing in Oklahoma City. And of course she's been Oprah's guest. As a resiliency expert she maintains that Auschwitz was the school that taught her everything she needed to know about life, about survival. "There was no Prozac in Auschwitz," she murmurs softly. It was the guild of surviving the Nazi atrocities, she thinks, that has driven her to be a high achiever. Why did I survive when others didn't? There must have been a reason. Although she was an overachiever professionally, the physic healing began only when she revisited her old alma mater, Auschwitz. "I wanted to look for the barracks where I danced for Mengele," she says quietly. When she visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and recognized her own photo, the internal healing process advanced. It only took 40 years. The goal, she says, is not to overcome but to come to terms with the 'cherished wound,' "The biggest concentration camp is in your own mind," Eger says softly but with conviction. "Healing is a lifelong journey." Since her graduation from the School of Auschwitz in May 1945, Eger has been on a lifelong inner journey from victim to heroine. By living her life fully, successfully, passionately and emphatically, she has turned adversity into advantage and is continually showing the way for others on the path. What does Edith Eger want carved on her tombstone. 'I NEVER SAID IT WAS EASY," she laughs.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger
It is amazing that we dwell on the small things daily and then you hear stories of true inspiration and triumph!

1 comment:

  1. I bet you lived a previous life in the late 30's, early 40's. Cool post.