I was recently asked to facilitate a session for a Holocaust survivor support group. The topic was resilience. Now this is a subject that resonates strongly for me as I feel it’s the key to coping and handling life’s curvy and bumpy roads. However, as I got to thinking about my actual presentation, I thought it ironic that anyone needed to talk to such a group on such a subject. I mean, they can all teach us about resilience. They’re the survivors of some of the worst horrific atrocities perpetrated upon mankind. They lived it, witnessed it and have been victims of excruciating suffering and loss.
Yet they’ve rebuilt their lives beyond these experiences, carrying with them memories we can only shudder to think about. They’ve somehow been able to integrate the brutality and evilness into their lives and still be able to carve out new lives with meaning and purpose, and even joy.
I decided to approach this by simply providing a framework to the concept of resilience and then honor them by having them share their ways of living on. Each participant was a teacher telling us all the qualities, skills and values he/she used to cope and create a new life.
Sure many still wake up in cold sweats having relived a night of awful memories through dreams. And anger lives on in some. The image of a mother being forced to watch her baby be tortured to death still haunts the 93 year old cantor.
It’s not the idea of eradicating these things. It’s about being able to live on, through them, despite them and find a place and ways of handling them so they don’t cripple and destroy one’s life. The fact that their lives were spared was the impetus for many to forge ahead and live productive and worthwhile lives; it was the empowering factor towards living on in as good a way as possible.
Not allowing evil to win out and not fulfilling the enemy’s wish to destroy the spirit of the survivors, was a predominant theme and the ‘outcoming’ message was to carry on with Goodness.
Good must prevail.
Leaving a legacy of a life well lived must prevail.
Reproducing new generations must prevail.
Appreciating the beauty around us must prevail.
As all of the survivors are obviously up there in age and are no longer on the treadmill of life – working hard, raising a family, growing a business, making a living- they are now in the more quiet time of their lives and much of the past horrors are flooding their minds.
And so they flowed back and forth between memories and purpose; memories and gratitude; memories and joy.
They truly epitomized Helen Keller’s line, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.”
I am honored to have been their student first, facilitator second.
Please watch this video of the oldest known Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, in her interview with Tony Robbins. She’s a 108 year old pianist who continues to play the piano at home. And check out the new book, Lessons from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, by Caroline Stoessinger.
Thanks for reading. I love facilitating groups and doing presentations. If you know of any groups looking for speakers on ‘living well’ topics, please contact me.