Joe was a brilliant, hardworking man who, because he was Jewish, found himself a prisoner in a concentration camp in Poland from 1941 to 1945. It was after a Thanksgiving dinner when he and I were sitting alone on a living room couch fifty years later that he decided to tell me this remarkable story of survival that reflected who he really was.
During the winter of 1945, the Germans took the remaining survivors of the Polish camp on a forced march to another camp in Germany. Joe knew this was going to be a death march and looked for the right moment to escape.
One night, when the German guards were lax, he saw an opportunity. He told his friends to come with him, but they refused. “They will kill us if they catch us,” they said.
“They’re going to kill us if we don’t escape,” Joe told them.
So they sneaked past the guards and hurried through the woods until they came to a farm with a barn where they made a mattress out of straw, and, for the first time in years, drank fresh milk from the cows there. This was “luxury” for these men who had only seen and felt horror and privation for years.
In the morning, the farmer opened the barn door and found them. He told them angrily they had better leave or he would tell the Germans, and he stormed out.
Joe’s friends prepared to leave, but he stopped them. “I am not leaving,” he said. “I am warm, have a comfortable bed, and can drink fresh milk. If I die, I want to choose the place where I will die. I am staying!”
Joe later learned that the farmer had no intention of notifying the Germans. His son had deserted the German army and was hiding in his father’s basement.
They all stayed two more days and, after regaining their strength, continued their journey to freedom.
His story made me think of the ethical code called the Code of Honor that Scientologists can choose to follow. One of the points of the code is: “Your self-determinism and your honor are more important than your immediate life.”
Joe lived his life by this code. The Germans could control his body, but not his spirit. It was that certainty that gave him courage and saved his life.
April 24, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a time to reflect on the evils that religious intolerance and hatred have brought, and still bring, to this world—to our family, friends or even strangers. It is a time to dedicate ourselves to stamping out prejudice and bigotry, wherever we may find them.
When WWII ended, my parents sponsored Joe to come to America, where he raised a family, created a successful business and became a multimillionaire. But he never forgave the German people for what he had to endure.
April 24, Holocaust Memorial Day, is a time to reflect on the evils that religious intolerance and hatred have brought, and still bring, to this world—to our family, friends or even strangers. It is a time to dedicate ourselves to stamping out prejudice and bigotry, wherever we may find them.