Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bubbles...And A Profile In Courage

Last night my wife and I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Canton resident Barbara Turkeltaub, a Holocaust survivor and a friend of mine.

Imagine being a six year old at a playground retreiving a soccer ball in a ditch. Suddenly it's very loud and you hear strange noises; you emerge. The children are dead. Nazis have invaded Poland and have bombed your city. You are rounded up with your sisters and parents into the Vilma ghettos. Arrangements are eventually made for the family to split up and escape. You and your three year old sister are ushered into a wagon in the middle of the night, buried by blankets and hay, to a farm of strangers.

You are barely welcome there, and you overhear that you and your sister are going to be turned in to the Gestapo the next day for some kind of reward. You don't know what the "Gestapo" is, but your fragile mind senses that something is wrong. You decide to escape in the middle of the night, but your sister is restless. You break into the pantry to get some bread to keep her quiet. You spot a what appears to be a jar of honey; this will work. The sweetness of the honey on the bread will distract her during the escape.

You sneak out and give her the bread to keep her quiet. Hand in hand, in the darkness of night, you notice bubbles coming out of her mouth. The jar of honey? Turns out is was soap. No matter; she is content to eat the bread lathered in soap, and you make your escape, eventually to a convent to be raised by nuns and priests until reunited with your mother a few years after the war ends.

The crowded room erupts in laughter along with Barbara. A moment of levity in an otherwise unfathomable story. A story told at a university peppered with college students. And a lesson in grace, forgiveness, and the strength of the human spirit that cannot be found in any textbook or course syllabus.

There are also lessons here for people devastated by injury and other personal tragedies like the loss of a loved one. Perserverence. Never giving up. Survival. Forgiveness. Finding kernels of goodness when surrounded by evil or dire circumstances.

Thank you, Barbara, for sharing.

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