Thursday, November 02, 2006

"I had no idea that it would be the last time I ever saw my mother."

"When we approached the gate, we were separated into two groups. With not even a word, just a motion of a hand, he waved my mother into one line, and me into another. I had no idea that it would be the last time I would ever see my mother."

We took our students yesterday to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie. The kids were priviledged to meet Magda Brown, a Jewish woman from Hungary who was sent to Auschwitz when she was 16 years old.

When she walked into the camp, she was separated from her mother, who was probably killed that day. It was the last time she saw any member of her immediate family.

Since she was young enough to be strong and old enough to work, she was sent out of Auschwitz and to a work camp near Frankfurt, Germany. She survived there long enough to be rescued by American troops in 1945.

I got a chance to chat with her afterward. What floored me about her is how absolutely normal and happy her life has been since surviving one of history's worst episodes. I got a sense that it was her ultimate revenge against those who perpetrated it. She is my hero.


Anonymous said...

wow. my grandpa was in WWII and he wont talk about it. i mean he will talk about the army and how he was on the front lines and all that... but he wont talk about anything once they hit the shores. he wont tell us what he saw and he says simply its because he would rather us think of happier thoughts.

that scares the hell out of me, knowing that he saw something so horrific that he wont speak about it.

Dale said...

A lady that I sometimes commute with was born in a camp at the end of the war. I shiver when I think about it all. Stories like that are just awe inspiring.

Bubs said...

I was fortunate last year to meet a man at our local VFW, who is a survivor of the Bataan death march.

My uncle served in the Marines in WWII, and then in the US Army Reserves for the next 30 years until the late 70's. He always talked about the reserves, and gave me all kinds of surplus military gear, but he would never, ever talk about his experiences in the war.

I found out later that he frequently had night terrors for years after coming home. A friend of my grandfather, who served in the same unit, talked to me about what it was like, and I found out my uncle had been one of the few survivors of a group of Marines whose unit was nearly wiped out on Guadalcanal.

I am always humbled by the quiet grace and fortitude of people who've survived such horror.

Johnny Yen said...

I have never met anyone who has been in actual combat who likes to talk about it, including my brother Dean, who is a year younger than me. He enlisted in the Marines in 1981, when he was 19. He spent over 14 years there. He spent his 21st birthday in 1983 in Beirut, Lebabon with the ill-fated "peacekeeping" force. He was fortunately not one of the 240 guys who were killed by the truck bomb in October, 1983, but he spent three days digging them out of that building. It has scarred him for life. For a long time I was the only one in the family he ever said anything to about it. I still have a letter he sent me a couple of months afterward in which he told me how awful it was to have to break the arms and legs of the dead, many of whom were friends, to get them into bodybags, and holding guys whose bodies were smashed, who were terrified and dying, lying to them, telling them that they would be okay so they'd feel better in their last couple of minutes of life.

He spent time in Iraq (the first one, in 1991, Somalia, Bosnia and finally during another "peace-keeping" mission, he had a nervous break-down. He eventually was found to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, primarily from Beirut. He was given a "permanantly disabled" status, and collects a full military pension. To this day, he has trouble holding down a job. It affects his relationships with family and others.

War should always be a last resort. It damages even the people who survive it. I wish someone had told our "President" that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Johnny Yen,
I am happy to report that Magda is in good health and continues to share her story. I think that comments like Yours are what keeps her going.

Be well,
Rochelle Brown-Rainey
a.k.a. Magda's Daughter
(google - Magda Brown Holocaust - to see her latest whereabouts....)