Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Meeting Holocaust Survivors

Travelling over 25000 km during the last couple of weeks, I managed to encounter a few people and incidences that I shall write one by one. The most important meeting I had was with a couple who are perhaps the oldest living holocaust survivors today who have taken their refuge in New Zealand ever since their escape from Auschwitz. I met them at Tauranga - Bob and Freeda - Bob happens to be a successful lawyer and a dotting husband while Freeda on the other hand was a sweet, soft-spoken lady surrounded by an aura of beauty. We met over a dinner hosted at conference during which Bob delivered his talk about their life and survival during the holocaust. Listening to their stories of survival in the concentration camp was like watching a blockbuster Hollywood movie in action (incidentally, the story of Bob and Freeda, is to be made into a movie) and the way the couple met and happily live ever after, more like pages taken straight out of a fairy tale.
To cut the long story short, Bob and Freeda had lost it all - family, friends, possessions, country - at a very tender age; yet, they survived. In the face of inhuman conditions - when their chances of survival was the meekest, they did get a chance to be cradled by humanity - by people who saved them, protected them and kept them safe. They later met for the first time at a gathering for holocaust survivors, fell instantly in love and have two kids and live a life advocating against violence by telling their story to the rest of the world - students and youth mostly - at any invited opportunity they get since then.
The next day, we once again got a chance to meet them as part of a small group to discuss with them any doubts we carried from the previous day. There were all sorts of questions from the Academicians from around the world who had gathered there for the conference - from requesting details of their escape to chronological arrangement of the sequence in which they met - everyone had something they wanted to ask. As for me, I had counted three things to ask...
The pains and terrors of Auschwitz, is not a stranger to me; I have used the ghosts of the concentration camps to initiate discussions and thinking in classrooms over unmanaged genocides and ethnic cleansing happening in our world even today - be it in parts of Africa, parts of Bangladesh, several parts of India and the whole of Sri Lanka. Being a witness of a hot, boiling pot from the outside, it often has disturbed me and continuously frustrates me as to why despite these efforts to inform, educate, sensitize and think, stereotyping, prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, violence - and whatever one would like to name it, call it and label it, the evil consequence of violence would still not appear to stop. I had to ask Bob - who was not outside; yet, right in the middle of the boiling pot as and when it happened during the holocaust, who suffered its consequences directly - if he felt that there was something more we must do that we have not done that needs to be done to contain this rascalish demon of discrimination - the foundation of all the violence around us. When asked, Bob frowned, shook his head, looked at Freeda and without looking at anyone, said, 'I don't know'. An answer simple, honest and straight forward just like the man himself. With the images of NEWS from India reporting the rape and murder of children running in my mind during that time, I tried to push him a little further and asked him to tell me how human beings could be so inconsiderate to their fellow beings and be so selfish, self-centered and oblivious to the rest of the world around them, he nodded his head and replied, 'pervert thoughts'. Perhaps with the wisdom that comes with age (for some), he spoke less while explaining more.
Finally for my third and final question, when I asked him what we should do further to contain violence in this world, he said, '... let us continue to do what we already do, and keep doing it until we find something better to do.'
So there ended our meeting and when I stepped back to my staff room here in India, a lovely young girl who knew that I had just arrived from a visit to New Zealand and Australia, came with a very interestingly concerning query; she asked, 'How is racism there in New Zealand and Australia? Do they discriminate Indians? Will an Indian be able to survive there?' Meanwhile, out here, I was wondering if an Indian would be able to survive India in the first place considering the discrimination we have to face as we move every 100 km within our own land. Jai Hind!

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