Serving Others at Whatever Cost by ShareGood Contributor David Weiss
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost” –Arthur Ashe
How did I manage to get here? As the grandson of four Holocaust Survivors the odds were very small. Only ten percent of Polish Jews survived. Only seventeen percent of Slovak Jews survived. Then after the war their survival was still not a sure-thing. Two of my grandparents left Kielce, Poland right before the Displaced Persons Camp was ransacked and dozens were killed. After Liberation my other grandparents had to flee Stalin and live in Israel during tumultuous, dangerous years in the new nation. The fact that I am alive now is a tribute, without question, to all four of my grandparents. My grandparents would also be the first to tell you that they wouldn’t have made it without the help of some very important Heroes. While some of these Heroes I can thank by name, some I can not. Some will simply be remembered for the ray of light and the humanity that they brought to the world.
Why did some people survive while others didn’t? In most cases, Survivors had several Heroes and those six million that were killed were not as fortunate. My grandparents were courageous and resourceful….and they had Heroes along the way.
My Grandma Weiss survived the war by going into hiding in her native Slovakia. Grandma Weiss’s cousin, Hermina Wilhelm, moved Grandma around from place to place during the war. Hermina was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism and raised her children Catholic which allowed her to survive. Hermina found safe havens for Grandma Weiss in several places and each of the people that took her in risked their life to do so. Of special note was a pharmacist of German heritage who lived in her hometown of Trnava. He took in my grandmother and then when he got word that she had been captured after she moved along to a new hiding spot, he rescued her. This pharmacist had authority to enter the deportation center in Trnava where Grandma was awaiting transport to her probable death. He told her to come with him into a small closet-type room where she could exit out of a window, which she did.
There was also the Hlinka Guard Member who was part of a two-man team that entered and captured my Grandmother while she was hiding with a local seamstress. The Hlinka Guards were local Slovaks and known to be incredibly brutal. This man told his partner that he was going to deal with this lady (my Grandma) alone. He took Grandma to the next room and asked her if she recognized him. He was a former classmate of hers. He asked Grandma how long she had been hiding. She said “for a few days”. The Hlinka Guard member shook his head and said “you’ve been here much longer. I know for sure”. He raised his hand and told her, in Slovak, that he swore on his life that he would keep her safe. He had known she was there and he wanted to personally handle the situation. He took Grandma away and his partner and the lady hiding Grandma assumed that she was going to get deported. Instead, she was safely returned to Hermina Wilhelm’s house and relocated. I do not know who this Guard was. I don’t know his name and my grandmother didn’t remember it either. She painfully recalled that she thought he may have died in the 1944 Bratislava Uprising.
My Grandpa Weiss was declared an “Economically Important Person” in Slovakia and he was spared deportation. His father had died in World War I and his mother was deported to Auschwitz on Yom Kippur of 1942. Grandpa was moved into a small underground room where he lived and made false teeth. He was regularly beaten and had very little to eat or drink. Fortunately, my grandfather had been in the Czechoslovak Military from 1934-1936 and a friend of his gave him life-saving information and allowed him to hide his belongings. When Spring of 1944 arrived, he told Grandpa that there was an Uprising in the capital of Bratislava and Hitler was declaring that all Jews, even Economically Important People, were to be rounded up and killed. This heads-up allowed Grandpa to stay with his friend for two nights. While he was there his friend identified a large farm many miles outside of Nitra which was owned by a wealthy German. He allowed Jews to hide there although the conditions were beyond awful. Grandpa Weiss stayed there for nearly a year before Liberation. This heroic friend was also in his mid-20’s with his whole life ahead of him. Instead of doing what was easy, he took a risk and lived a heroic life. In all of my discussions with my grandfather he’d always say that “a few” Christian friends helped him and I never pursued their names or if he knew what happened to them. Once my Grandparents fled Stalin and arrived in Israel, their ties to the “Old Country” were almost all a distant or repressed memory.
My Grandpa Grinbaum survived the Miechow Ghetto and several concentration camps. He lived through four-plus years of hell and after that he had more suffering. At the end of the Holocaust, Grandpa Jack returned to his hometown of Miechow to see if his younger brothers survived (they did not). He knew that his parents were killed. Grandpa visited the only one Christian person he trusted. He told Grandpa that no Jews survived except for one named Lazorek. He walked Grandpa to Lazorek’s home with a shotgun in hand. After the Holocaust if they saw a Jew and they could get away with it (at least in Miechow at this time) they would kill him. He courageously took Grandpa to Lazorek’s one room house. Grandpa guesses that he weighed under seventy pounds at five-foot-five. The fifty-to-sixty year-old Jewish man told Grandpa that “whatever I eat, you can eat”. That was quite a statement since food was scarce and Lazorek had spent the war fighting for his own life as a member of the underground resistance. After six months or so he told Grandpa to go to a Displaced Persons Camp because he was young enough to rebuild his life. There was no life possible for a young Jewish man in Miechow. Lazorek, however, said that he’d stay in his home for the few years he’d have left.
Unfortunately Grandma Grinbaum had no hero that I know of. But I’d found out when I was a teenager that she was the hero. Grandma’s village of Maczki was invaded in the Fall of 1939. Most of her family was killed on the spot. She was taken to do road building by the Nazis before being imprisoned in the Parschnitz Concentration Camp. At Parschnitz, Grandma worked with hazardous materials used in the war. While at a Survivor Community in Florida in the mid-1990’s we ran into a lady who spent considerable time with Grandma at Parschnitz. She told us all that our Grandma saved her life. When this lady was sick and couldn’t work, Grandma did her work on top of her own work. And she made a point of saying that this wasn’t the only time that Grandma did this for people. When we turned to Grandma, and asked her about this, I remember she shrugged her shoulders and just said in Yiddish “ikh ton nit gedenken alts” or “I don’t remember everything”. By the time I knew my Grandmother she was sixty-years-old and was wearing down from the trials of a rough, unfair life. But there were still times where her full and powerful aura came shining through. She was physically strong, charismatic and the consummate “giver”. While I’d love to have a nice story of a stranger risking their life for her, and maybe there was one that I don’t know, her life didn’t seem to work that way.
Arthur Ashe was unquestionably correct when he said that “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost”. The examples of heroism that we see portrayed are usually grandiose and dramatic. True heroism, however, is almost always as Arthur Ashe described it “….remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost”.
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