All throughout grade school, we cover history; the history of our country, the history of the world, and the history of humanity in general. We memorize dates, leaders, wars, laws etc, but do we really understand the meaning of the past? How often do we skim through the pages of our textbooks, seeing, but not fully comprehending what we read? We tend to think that the past is the past. It was years ago, and has no relevance in today’s world. I can tell you that these perspectives couldn’t be farther from the truth. I bring this to light because I experienced the past in the most real form there is. I was invited on a journey to a time and place most people believe to be ancient; a journey that was painful and tragic, yet captivating. It was an experience I will never forget.
On a cold, rainy Thursday, a large group of students piled inside a classroom, awaiting a lecture from a man named Martin Weiss. You wouldn’t have suspected this particular man to be the guest of honor that day. He was so cheerful and light-hearted, a temperament I wouldn’t have expected considering the topic of the lecture at hand. He introduced himself to the room as a survivor of the Holocaust. In his hand he held a gold watch, set it for an hour, and began to share his story.
I can’t even begin to tell you what this man experienced in his lifetime, not only because it was horrifying, but because I do not believe it’s my story to tell. I can tell you that he suffered through one of the darkest times in our world’s history, and lived to tell the tale. As a survivor of both the Auschwitz and Mauthausen death camps, he witnessed how cruel human beings can be. What amazed me was his memory of what happened, down to the tiniest details. The Holocaust happened over sixty years ago, and he was merely a boy when he experienced it. Nevertheless, he never failed to paint a clear picture of the past in our minds, and bring to life what we had only read about in our history books.
It’s hard for us to comprehend how such dreadful things could have happened, so we hide behind the word “past”. We push it away until it doesn’t hurt anymore. But, the reality remains, that no matter how much we want to bury history, it will follow us. This man is living proof that, yes, those days were some time ago, but still within our generation of men. If we conceal the past, who’s to say it won’t repeat itself? In retrospect, sixty years is not that long ago, and especially not long enough to forget the pain and the suffering that occurred. Martin Weiss carries with him a burden that we all must help him carry. He will never forget, and neither should we.
What struck me the most was the raw emotion this man revealed in his story. Not only was his vulnerability humbling, but the moments in which he was emotional were truly remarkable. These moments I speak of occurred when he recalled someone showing him kindness and generosity. One thing I genuinely respected about this man was his faith in the “goodness” of people. He was not bitter and he was not at all vengeful. Near the end of his lecture a man in the audience asked him how to prevent such things from ever reoccurring, and without hesitation he pointed to us and said, “Them. They are your answer.”
We must learn and grow from Martin’s experiences. Replicate his forgiving and understanding nature, while at the same time, educating ourselves of the connection between past, present, and future. We are the remedy for the future, and we owe it to every person who gave their life so that our lives would benefit from it.