I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with reading and hearing stories that offer a sense of perspective and hope. Over the past six decades, I’ve earned my chance to share my own thoughts and stories passed down from my ancestors. I was blessed to have grandparents who were survivors of two world wars, and who were able to share their stories and life perspectives with me, in journals and during dinner conversations. Now that I’m a grandparent myself of five beautiful grandchildren, I feel that it’s my turn to carry the torch of perspective and hope.
Parents and grandparents play many roles in their children’s lives, but one of the most important is instilling them with a sense of hope and perspective. One way to do so is through storytelling. Nurturing a sense of hope and perspective is about honoring the present, appreciating the past, and planning for the future. It’s also a way to be grateful for our blessings, both personally and spiritually.
As a Holocaust survivor, my father was a master at instilling hope and perspective. Even though he died more than thirty years ago, I continue to hold his values close to my heart. He was very grateful to be alive and to be able to put food on his family’s table. He was grateful for his freedom and hopeful about humanity.
For five of my father’s most formative years — from age fifteen to twenty — he was a prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. While there, he ate scraps of left-behind food, and at night he slept on wooden barracks with hundreds of others, all shivering under thin blankets. His father, who’d died of pneumonia just before the war broke out, had owned a well-respected lumberyard in the neighboring town, and the Nazis knew him, so they gave my father a job working in the kitchen peeling potatoes. Unlike most of the other prisoners in the concentration camps, my father was fortunate to always have food available to him. But no matter what horrible things he witnessed and endured, he never lost hope. Like Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, my father believed that if you have meaning in your life, you can survive anything.
Years before he died at the age of seventy-one from congestive heart failure (after coughing up blood after thirty years of smoking), my father shared the story…