One in six million: Holocaust survivor urges message of love

Erin Ober

“At the age of 11, that’s when the war broke out, I became an adult, and five years later I became an old man.” These words marked the beginning of Holocaust-survivor Henry Golde’s talk on Wednesday night. He added, “what I had seen in those five years and what I experienced, a person that would live to their ripe old age would never endure.” Speaking with a still-pronounced Polish accent even though he’s been living in England and the United States since the age of 16, Golde spoke of atrocities, miracles, and love. In his hour-long speech, he shared some of his experiences in some of the most brutal concentration camps in Eastern Europe during WWII. Golde has been speaking for over 25 years, targeting mostly local schools, and his words are polished and purposeful. His story, like many stories of Holocaust survivors, involves a blend of hardiness and luck, where seemingly independent and arbitrary events combine to produce a remarkable tale.
Golde was born in Poland in a small town north of Warsaw that had a population of 3,000 Jews; he is one of only 50 to survive. After being taken from his hometown by Nazis at age 11 and put to work in various munitions factories or concentration camps, Golde saw life as an everyday choice. Having one’s life constantly threatened, witnessing the death at every turn, and existing in a place that is devoid of relationships or hope, are experiences many of us cannot fathom. Being close to it, however, hearing the story, can give an understanding of what our history is, and what our future can be.
This is why Golde speaks, and why he feels love is so important. One of the final stories he shared with the audience dealt with a friend who accused him of having hate in his heart. He said that at first he denied it but then started to think, and realized that he still felt animosity deep down, feelings he thought were justified due to the atrocities carried out against himself and his people. “Then I started to think again, and then I forgive, and when I forgive I started to love, and my whole outlook on life has changed. Let me say it again and again; hate is nothing and love is everything.”
The refrain is an inspiring one considering his experiences. “I’ve seen Holocaust survivors speak before,” said Liz Matelski, the Diversity Center program coordinator. “I was impressed by his positiveness. Even though he went through all those atrocities at a young age he can still come out of it with love, with that message.”
Unfortunately one of the values of the stories of these survivors is that they won’t always be accessible. “This is an opportunity that’s not going to be around forever,” said Prof. Peter Glick, who with Prof. Karen Carr teaches a course entitled “The Holocaust.” “I think it’s a really good experience for students to meet and interact with survivors while they can.” Though books have been written and speakers like Golde have traveled the world in an effort to educate, not everyone will be able to hear it firsthand.