Hugging Holocaust survivors

One of the great things about working for the Simon Wiesenthal Center is the incredible people that you get to meet, especially the heroes that survived the Holocaust. They all have amazing stories to tell and a profound view of life. Today I met with Simon Gronowski. Simon lives in Belgium and is on a whirlwind tour of NY. In 1943, at the tender young age of 11, Simon leapt off a moving train to escape the Nazis and save his life. Today he is a lawyer, author and an accomplished jazz pianist.

We talked for a while about his experiences in the Holocaust. His positive attitude towards life and people was infectious. Simon suddenly grew serious and told me the following story. Recently he was connected to a person that served as a guard, who was active when his Sister and Mother were rounded up and sent to the gas chamber. This person begged Simon for forgiveness. Simon asked me “So what do you think I did” There was a long palpable silence between us. I wasn’t sure what Simon’s answer could have been. How do you put aside all of that pain? Simon then proceeded to tell me that he forgave the man. Not on behalf of all those that he had helped to kill, he stressed. Just on behalf of himself.

I told him that Simon Wiesenthal had the same dilemma in a short story he published called “The Sunflower”. Can we forgive? Should we forgive? Do we have the right to forgive? These were the questions that many years ago almost pulled the State of Israel apart when they debated taking reparations from Germany in the Knesset. These are the questions that still plague us today.

Our meeting ended as almost all of my meetings with Holocaust survivors end, with a hug. The generation of Holocaust survivors is slowly slipping away. We must all seek them out, converse with them, learn from their wisdom. When you are finished, give them the most powerful hug you can. You are hugging Jewish history.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Burg is the Director General - Mankal of Aish HaTorah. He previously served as the Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, as well as the Managing Director of the OU and International Director of NCSY. Rabbi Burg has his Masters in Medieval Jewish History and has studied at Harvard and Kellogg Business schools.
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