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Date: 9/26
Location: Vinohrady
Listening to: Game of Thrones TV show
Mood: Peaceful

So, I’m posting part 3 of a series before part 2. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read this blog 😀

So. A little bit of background on why this random 21-year old non-religious lady has such a fascination with learning from Holocaust survivors, and then we’ll get into some wisdom from Mr. Bernard Offen, who I had the honor to meet on Sunday. It must have started with Lois Lowry’s Number The Stars or perhaps the Diary of Anne Frank. I think I read both during middle school (or at least part of the Diary, I’m not sure I ever read it cover-to-cover.) I found the stories terrifying and fascinating, and quite at odds with the pragmatic way that history books cover the Holocaust. As Mr. Offen told us on Sunday, human connections change the world. A personal story is a thousand times more powerful than a statistic. Then in high school, Elie Weisel, the author of Night, The Sunflower, and dozens more books, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, spoke at graduation my sophomore year. You can find his whole speech here. I found it amazing that someone who had been through such suffering could be such a strong person, still have faith in humanity, and still fight injustice. It is impossible to say, “in his place I would have done ___,” but I think we can all agree that going through concentration camps and seeing friends and family slaughter could easily cause a loss of faith in humanity. Somewhere around the same time I was invited to a synagogue for a Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance, where several Holocaust survivors gave testimony- I was seated at a table with a gentleman who had been in a Kindertransport and spoke of his struggle to find family, friends, anyone from his hometown after the war.

So, I believe that personal stories are important. But I’m not going to tell you Mr. Offen’s personal story. I’m going to copy down some bullet points from my notes and hope they make you think. I’ll stay, however, that he was, like Mr. Weisel, a spry and optimistic old man, like someone’s grandfather who, despite being 83, would still throw around a baseball.

-He was smuggled into a concentration camp; after escaping being killed with a group of other children when he was 11, he hid for a few days and then snuck into another camp with his uncle- “Perhaps you think I am crazy, sneaking into a concentration camp, but it was the best option, the only option for survival.”
-“I’m here to bear witness, to bear testimony to all of you, of what we as humans are capable of.”
-Governments today are in turmoil because they don’t care about humans, we all allow this system and support it by not protesting.
-Religion is politics about our lives; what we believe in runs our lives and what we work towards shows our beliefs.
-Forgiveness lightens your load, holding anger damages you.
-Yes, he forgave the Nazis for his suffering. But, “I cannot forgive for my family or anyone else. I do not have the power to do that. I can only forgive for my own suffering.”
-Anger pulls us and leads us without our knowing, we think we’re free but not until we confront our trauma, and we are all damaged whether we know it or not.
-He leads walks around Auschwitz while sharing his story- calls it “Self-confrontation in the process of healing.”
-Nuclear weapons are like gas chambers; they are equal opportunity destroyers.
-As long as money is the most important thing, we cannot move forward as humans. Our beliefs allow suffering as long as we make money.
-Younger generations inherit the responsibility for our ancestors’ actions: environmental damage from nuclear bombs, flawed systems, etc.
-Someone asked what was the most important thing he had learned: “We are all connected. We ARE our brother’s keeper, whether we like it or not. What we do to others comes back to us, not as individuals but as a system.”
-We must hold people responsible for how they produce goods.
“If I had been born in Germany, I would have believed we had a Jewish Problem, and we needed to solve it.” This was…. jaw-dropping, for most of us. Mr. Offen would be an incredible sociology teacher.

Are you, gentle reader, surprised that Mr. Offen was so political? I’m not. In addition to his genius ‘religion = politics’ statement, a lot of his life has featured being pushed around by politics. After immigrating to America, he was almost immediately drafted to fight in Korea. All I can say is, he was an incredibly smart, savvy man, and I feel honored to have heard from him, about his life and beliefs. Oh, and he’d have my vote any day.

Part two, the gas chamber at Auschwitz and the memorial at Auschwitz II- Birkenau will come…. sometime. It will be a pretty picture-heavy post, and then I’ll get back into the swing of posting about Prague adventures (:

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