Year Course How To Save A Life — Heroism In Auschwitz
By Sharon Schoenfeld
In wake of the recent tragedies in Boston, it feels like the perfect time to share a recent experience I had on Young Judaea Year Course, my nine-month Masa program in Israel. Last month I, along with 50 other Year Course participants, traveled to Poland with Kuma to visit the concentration camps and a number of historic Jewish sites. The trip was an incredibly emotional experience, and at times I felt as if there was evil all around me. Yet every time I began to feel that evil around me, I was reminded of the incredible strength of humanity overcoming the worst through stories of survival, resistance, and the amazing sacrifice of the victims of the Holocaust.
While there are many stories to be told, I’m going to focus on one that really hits home with me time after time. Be forewarned however, this story not only shows the best in humanity, it also shows the worst. It is a disturbing story, yet it shows that even in the face of death and hopelessness, rays of good still will shine through. This story, while powerful enough on its own, was even more powerful to me because I heard it while standing 5 feet away from the bridge in Auschwitz where this story takes place:
It was just another day at Auschwitz as another train full of doomed Jews pulled up to the unloading docks. As they were being unloaded, two Nazi guards standing on a bridge where the “lucky” few Jews who were not selected for immediate death would cross to get to their barracks, were arguing. Below the bridge was a pit of sorts. This pit was full of nothing but sewage. The two SS guards standing over the pit were arguing about how long it would take someone to drown in the sewage. After arguing and arguing, they couldn’t agree on a time so they decided to test it out to find out how long it would take.
As the Jews passed over the bridge, one guard got his watch out while the other one kicked a small girl into the pit. As she flew into the pit, these guards, who were now laughing, began their timer. At first, there was nothing. The sewage was so thick; she didn’t even sink right away. Struggling, she attempted to free herself from the pit but was unsuccessful. Eventually she slowly began to sink. Within a matter of minutes it would be as if she never existed. But right as she was about to go under, something incredible happened. She felt a hand grab her. Another prisoner had seen the incident and had rushed to her side. Without thinking, he jumped into the sewage-filled pit and swam over to save the little girl. With his hand grasped around her arm, he pulled her out of the pit where she was quickly ushered back in line. She didn’t even have time to thank the man who saved her life. She didn’t know what this man looked like and never saw him again. She survived the Holocaust because of one man who risked his life to save a little girl in need of help.
To this day, this woman does not know who this man was or what his fate was. All she knows is that he saved her life. How, in the biggest place of death and evil in the world, was humanity able to shine through? Why was this man willing to risk his life to save the life of a little girl? Even when all hope has been lost, humanity will never be lost. There are hundreds of stories in the Holocaust of good triumphing over evil. Every Holocaust survivor has one. Even when all hope seems lost and all good is gone; there will always be a glimmer of hope. We see this type of selflessness in every tragedy. During every tragic event, there are stories of people rushing to the scene to help others, putting their own lives at risk.
More recently, hundreds of people rushed to the side of injured victims in Boston and Texas, some of them losing their own lives to save others. In a world full of war, corruption, and death, it’s easy to miss the good that happens. I urge you to look not only at the evil that happens in the world but also the good that shines through during these times. During the worst tragedies, the best in people come out. As history has shown, the good always triumphs over the evil. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the most recent tragedies.