Are You Stronger Than Your Past? A Lesson From a Holocaust Survivor
His troubles began with the death of his identical twin brother when he was seven years old. By the age of ten, he had already lost his entire family. Utterly alone, with no food or shelter, he was left to wander the forests, only to be imprisoned in a sealed ghetto and forced to live under the constant threat of death.
Does this sound like the childhood of a happy person?
We are taught that a difficult childhood inevitably leads to problems later in life. Depression in our forties is traced down to how our parents treated us before we were being potty trained. Anxiety all the way in our fifties is attributed to feelings of neglect before we even reached puberty.
We all have our stories. I sure have mine. Sometimes, I feel hopeless against all the suffering that I’ve endured as a small child. It’s unfair. It’s just plain wrong. Now I am stuck with all those scars, hopeless against a sea of trouble that will always be a part of who I am.
But then, I look at my grandfather – five feet tall, deep smile lines on his face. Who am I to complain about my fate? This man has suffered more than I could ever comprehend. And, yet, against all odds, he is, without a doubt, a much happier person than I am. In fact, despite his past, he is the happiest person I’ve ever met.
Grandpa Srulik was born in a small Polish village. His mother stayed at home to raise three children while his father provided for the family as a salesman. Srulik describes his family as warm, loving, and peaceful. He spent his early childhood playing with his brothers in the fields, eating homemade meals, and celebrating Jewish holidays.
Things suddenly took a turn for the worse when, at the age of seven, Srulik unexpectedly lost his best friend—his identical twin brother. Shortly afterwards, his previously serene village was occupied by Nazis and his family – the only Jewish family in the village – was hunted down and murdered. Srulik alone managed to barely escape.
Alone, and with no one to comfort his immeasurable loss, Srulik wandered the forest. This is how grey hairs first appeared on the ten-year-old child’s head.
The following year would prove even more difficult, challenging Srulik to overcome one of the most inhumane prisons in human history, the Nazi ghetto, where, day after day, thousands of innocent people were put to their deaths.
Having just spent three years writing Grandpa’s memoir, I’m now even more amazed by the person that he turned out to be. How, after so much suffering, does he manage to maintain such high spirits? How did he come out of some of the worst trials man has ever suffered to be so joyful and full of life?
To this day, Grandpa radiates a gentle presence. No matter what life throws his way, he always finds a way to return to a state of gratitude and joy. His infectious laugh and his broad, warm smile reveal that nothing could dim the light in his heart.
Finding Happiness Despite Our Past.
Few of us were so unfortunate as to suffer pain comparable that to that of my grandfather’s childhood. Yet, the scars from our past that imprint on us, big or small as they may be, often leave an undeniable mark on our lives.
Can we move beyond past suffering and fill our present with happiness and joy, despite all that we have had to endure?
My grandfather is a prime example showing us that this is indeed possible. No matter how much pain we’ve had to endure and how much injustice has visited our path, there is a way to liberate ourselves from these old scars and enjoy a life blessed with happiness.
If a child holocaust survivor can do it, then surely we can do the same in our times of peace of plenty.
Whenever I feel down and a sense of hopelessness creeps into my life, I like to remind myself that Grandpa never lost hope, even when he was unprotected from the cold winter nights while hiding in the forest, even when there was literally nothing to eat, and even when everyone around him was dying by the thousands.
Whenever I feel that I’ve been dealt a lousy hand in life, and the urge to delve into a well of self-pity arises within me, I remind myself what no matter what life brought his way, Grandpa always found a way to see the upside in every situation, and highlight every ray of light that ever lit his path.
Whenever I feel the inclination to justify a foul mood by complaining of my past, I remind myself that Grandpa’s heart is full of joy after all that he has been through.
It is my greatest hope that my grandfather and his story will help you find hope on a stormy day.
Photo by jucanils