This past Wednesday and Thursday marked the start and end of Yom HaShoah, a day observed to remember the 6 million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust (it is known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day). To pay tribute, last night my family and I attended a service held by a partner of the church my mom works at, that included a message from a Holocaust survivor.
Growing up, I’d seen a lot films in school about the Holocaust that often included blips from survivors sharing their stories, however nothing compared to being in the physical presence of this man, listening to his own personal tragedy.
He told us about where he grew up in Poland and what it was like before the Germans occupied his city. He described the Ghetto his family was placed in and how his dad started a black market to keep food on the table. He explained how he turned himself over to the police to save his sister and was sent to Auschwitz at 16 years old. Every detail of his story was heartbreaking. The hate he saw and experienced is unfathomable. But then, as he moved from Auschwitz to liberation to a new life in America, he told us stories of something you might have thought would be lost on him forever: love.
He told us about how he met his wife and when they decided to move to Los Angeles. He told us about the business he built from the ground up that honored the memory of his father. He told us about when he lost his wife and how, against every odd, he found love again 4 years later with a fellow survivor he met at picnic. She was there with him last night and she smiled when he told us of the “fireworks” he saw when she kissed him on the cheek that afternoon at the park.
I was truly in awe of this man, not only for surviving the horror but for seemingly overcoming it. He was exposed to some of the worst hatred the world has ever seen and yet, still allowed himself to experience love, twice.
The rabbi closed the talk with a cry for help for those in the world right now experiencing Holocausts of their own. He was adamant in making us aware of the hate that is present and the love that is needed. It was a heartbreaking and eye opening statement. I know that it is easy to want to close your eyes to the evil of the world that is seemingly ever present. We don’t feel like we can help, or that we can change it, so we want to pretend it’s not there at all. But the truth is, we can help, because we all have within us one superpower: the ability to love.
Now, I know that it may sound a bit elementary, to say that love will solve all the world’s problems. But think about it on a grand scheme. We all love in different ways. Some love on a grand scale, with a passionate fire. Those are the people on the front lines, doing everything they can to stop the horrors of the world around us. We cannot expect everyone to love like this. Love has to be honest; it cannot be imitated or assumed, so asking someone to love the same way as another is like asking someone to wear new skin. This is why it is important to find your own way to love and to do it without shame.
Love is a mysterious and magical thing that can change someone’s life. You never know how much someone may need it. So I encourage you to love as much and as hard as you can. It’s a contagious feeling that can spread with even a small smile. And never assume that a small act of love is meaningless, you never know what your love can do, after all it was one man’s hate that spread and killed 6 million people.