Given the fact that I am incredibly sentimental it will seem odd to my friends to hear me say I am not a big Valentine’s Day person. I’m all for romance, don’t get me wrong but, in the words of my mother, I think it’s just another made up day. The Pollyanna in me thinks we should celebrate love, in all forms, everyday. The love of friends and family who bring us joy, support, comfort, and laughter. Perhaps I should change my thinking and realize it’s a day to cherish and acknowledge that. But on this day, regardless of what is going on around me, there is one story I always think of.
In 2006, Michael spent most of February in Washington, D.C. for a trial. I decided to visit him for a few days that month and it was on that trip that I finally went to Holocaust Museum. The solemness of that building and everything it contains, artifacts and those intangible, still haunt me. The shocking thing to me after spending several hours there was the realization I hadn’t been crying. Perhaps the sheer enormity of loss was too jarringly shocking. Until the end. It was in the Testimony Theater, a small space where survivors’ tapes about resistance, survival and rescue are played for visitors, that I broke down. Not from sadness but because on that day, Valentine’s Day 2006, I heard survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein tell the most beautiful love story. She had been liberated by American soldiers after living in the hell that was the concentration camps. Her liberation was a resurrection and the beginning of a love story like no other.
All of a sudden I saw (pause) a strange car coming down the hill, no longer green,
not bearing the swastika, but a white star. It was sort of a mud-splattered vehicle but
I’ve never seen a star brighter in my life. And two men sort of jumped out, came running
toward us and one came toward where I stood. He was wearing battle gear. I have to think…you know.
His helmet was this mesh over that and he was wearing dark glasses and he spoke to me in German.
And he said, “Does anybody here speak German or English?” and I said, “I speak German.”
And I felt that I had to tell him we are Jewish and I didn’t know if he would know what the star
means or anything, but you know, and I uh looked at him, I was a little afraid to tell him that but
I said to him, “We are Jewish, you know.” He didn’t answer me for quite a while.
And then his own voice sort of betrayed his own emotion and he said, “So am I.”
I would say it was the greatest hour of my life. And then he asked an incredible question.
He said, “May I see the other ladies?” You know, what…what we have been addressed for six years and
then to hear this man. He looked to me like a young god. I have to tell you I weighed 68 pounds.
My hair was white. And you can imagine, I hadn’t had a bath in years.
And this creature asked for “the other ladies.” And I told him that most of the girls were inside, you know.
They were too ill to walk, and he said, “Won’t you come with me?” And I said, “Sure.”
But I didn’t know what he meant.
He held the door open for me and let me precede him and in that gesture restored me to humanity.
And that young American of the day is my husband.
– Gerda Weissmann Klein
as told to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
I always thought the sentiment ‘Love Makes the World Go Round’ was so silly. If it did, how could such atrocities and suffering occur? But I guess this story proves to me that love can certainly be a changing force, so maybe in the end the statement is really true. The only thing I know for sure is that we should celebrate and hold dear those we love and let them do the same for us. Happy Valentine’s Day.