Thanksgiving is the time when families get together and give thanks for all the blessings in their lives, but this year, I wanted to write about a person whose story made me feel differently about gratitude this year.
As part of Shaina's seventh grade Hebrew class, a class trip to the Holocaust Museum was planned to see art work that was created by Holocaust survivors and listen to a survivor talk about his experiences. My daughter was ambivalent about going initially but I wanted her to go and I wanted to listen to the story of this man as well.
When we got to the temple in Manhasset where the museum was located, I was quite amazed by the extensive collection of art work that depicted the Holocaust. What made more of an impact on me was seeing walls of photos of children with their birth dates and dates of when they were sent to the gas chambers. Children as young as two were sent to a huge room filled with shower heads mistakenly thinking they would be taking a shower, but instead were sent to their deaths, with no chance of escape.
When we were asked to listen to the speaker, Irving Roth, I had no idea what to expect from his story. He spoke about how he was taken away from his family almost at the same age as my daughter. He spoke of being separated from his parents for years as they escaped to Hungary, but were reunited after the war. He spoke of being separated from his family after being packed in a train car with other families like sardines, then separated and led to the gas chamber, leaving him to fend for himself. Another part of his story that affected me was when he recounted how he and the other prisoners would be marched in front of a doctor daily and based on the number that was branded on each child's arm or the way the doctor felt that day, would determine whether one lived or died. He survived because of his willingness to live by any means possible, even if it meant working long hours in a concentration camp, never knowing how long his captors would let him live. He was one of the lucky ones who survived and was reunited with his parents after the war.
As I sat and listened to Mr. Roth, I was blown away by his frankness and honesty. I wasn't sure how Shaina and her classmates would react to his experiences, but when I looked at these seventh graders, they were listening intently. While I thought that some parts of his story may have been too intense for them, that wasn't the case when I looked at their faces. Even after he was done, the questions that these pre-teens asked were based on what he said or read from his book.
After the visit to museum and I had a chance to sit and mull about what my daughter and I saw and heard, I came to the conclusion that his story was one of Thanksgiving. While there were no turkeys or Pilgrims involved, it was a story of survival. If not for Mr. Roth's story and so many millions of others who were taken away from their loved ones and died from the Holocaust, my perception of Thanksgiving would not have changed as it did that day.
Mr. Roth's will to survive at all costs and the miracle of being reunited with his parents made me realize how I have become indifferent to the idea of gratitude, that even on Thanksgiving, gratitude gets lost in the midst of the Macy's Day Parade and preparing turkey for family and friends. Don't get me wrong, I, too, get caught up with all of the hype regarding Thanksgiving, but gratitude must never be forgotten.
At this past Thanksgiving, I was very aware of how blessed I have been with loving family and friends and so humbled by a man who literally went through hell and survived to tell his story. Mr. Roth's survival from the Holocaust may not be your usual Thanksgiving story, but for me, it was what I needed to hear to be reminded that nothing should ever be taken for granted, for life can taken away in a heartbeat. That's my take on this, what's yours?
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