Parents and grandparents play many roles in their children’s lives, but one of the most important is instilling in them a sense of hope and perspective about honoring the present, appreciating the past, and planning for the future. It’s also a way to be grateful for our own blessings, both personally and spiritually.
Long before “compassion” became a buzzword in the mainstream media, my father was filled with grace, humor and loving-kindness. A Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the United States after World War II, he respected his Jewish heritage; however, his worldview was that religion divides humanity. He chose the path of not being a practicing Jew, but was so elated to have survived the war, that gratitude and compassion became his religion. His experiences led him to the belief that if there was truly a God, then his family wouldn’t have been taken from him in the war.
During five of my father’s most formative years — from age 15 to 20 — he was a prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. While in captivity, he ate scraps of left-behind food, and at night slept on wooden barracks with hundreds of others, all shivering under thin blankets. His own father died of pneumonia just before the war broke out and had owned a well-respected lumberyard in a neighboring town. The Nazis knew my grandfather, so they gave my father a job working in the kitchen peeling potatoes. Unlike most of the other prisoners in the camps, my father claimed he had more food available than the other prisoners. His experience gave him a broader perspective and taught him the importance of being grateful for the gift of life.
Being imprisoned left my father with lifelong physical and psychological scars. For example, he couldn’t stand the sight of red meat because he claimed that he’d seen too many dead bodies during the war. “The sight of blood just turns my stomach,” he used to say. He shared how he witnessed his younger brother, Joshua, and his mother being taken from their ghetto apartment by the Nazis, herded onto a train, and transported to the gas chambers, which ultimately led to their deaths. He and his brother Bob were the only ones in the family to survive.
Well before he died from congestive heart failure more than 30 years ago at the age of 71 — my father told me the story about a scar on his forehead. He said it was left when a Nazi soldier hit…