Ever since I first heard about the Holocaust, I’ve been strangely fascinated by it. Maybe I’m compelled by the fact that such unimaginable atrocities could have happened within the last century, maybe because of my visit to Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany in high school when I stepped between the same black gates as thousands of victims once did. (The deceptive promise, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” means “Work will make you Free.”)
Films depicting individual perspectives of the Holocaust — “Life is Beautiful” and “Schindler’s List”— are, oddly enough, some of my favorites right alongside “Emperor’s New Groove” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” And, no surprise, the Holocaust Museum is one of my absolute favorites in D.C.
But tonight at a symposium, I got to hear from a Holocaust survivor, a ninety year-old Polish rabbi whose entire family was exterminated and who survived two and a half years in the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Aside from the horrific stories he recounted from his time there, the most incredible thing about him was the theme of his memoir, For Decades I Was Silent: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey Back to Faith, his fierce clinging to his faith after encountering evil face to face. I sat there under his thick accent and matter-of-a-fact storytelling, humbled. I can hardly go a day without complaining about something, whether out loud or in my interior monologue. I never fear how I’m going to get my next meal; I worry about which of many vocations I should pursue. But more than just reaching me at an emotional level, he reminded me that embracing faith is a choice, something that circumstances of life will often not drive me to, but away from. What amazes me even more than his survival is the fact that he returned to faith in spite of all he experienced, even after abandoning his faith for several years after the Holocaust. I honestly don’t know if my faith would be that resilient if I went through half of what he did.