I was blessed with a wonderful father and did my best to be the best father I could be as well. So I was especially moved by Holocaust survivor Dr. Robert Fisch‘s tribute to his father in his remarkable book, Fisch Stories: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Here are three excerpts that capture the quiet heroism of the father and the loving devotion of the son.
My father enjoyed everything life could offer: music, food, theater, playing dominoes, and so forth. He and my mother had a shop that sold poultry and game. He was an exceptionally good person, and he helped so many needy people, mostly children in orphanages. In 1944, when he was 53 years old, Hungarian Nazis took him to a Hungarian concentration camp near the German border. A survivor told me that on the way he gave his food away, saying “I have enough.”
Before he died in the camp, my father’s last words were: “If people can do such things to each other, life is not worth living!” He was so respected that he was the only one buried in a separate, not a common, grave. He taught me love, laughter, and compassion.
Early on the morning of June 3, 1944, my father and I arrived at a corner near our home where the streetcar stopped. A heavy backpack over my shoulder contained all the materials I was allowed to take to the labor camp. The heaviest burden, however, was carried not on my shoulders but in our hearts. We realized that these sad moments might be our last ones together. And they were.
When the streetcar arrived, we kissed each other—not to say goodbye but to stay together as long as possible. From behind me, my father’s hand lifted my backpack as I stepped on the stairs. According to the law of physics, a body whose motion is initiated by power travels eternally in space. I still feel my father’s hand lightening my burden, sending me on.
For many Christians the destination of a pilgrimage is Bethlehem. For Jews it is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and for Muslims it is Mecca. My pilgrimage always leads to my father’s grave in Budapest’s Jewish cemetery. It is far out of town, the last stop on the No. 28 streetcar. The cemetery, the largest Jewish graveyard in Hungary, opened in 1891.
My father died in a concentration camp in Hidegseg, Hungary. Out of respect for his giving his food to other prisoners, he was buried in a single, separate grave. An eyewitness who knew the location of his grave told my mother about his death. Fortunately for us, the exhumation occurred before my mother and I arrived. The body was already in a sealed metal coffin, and we were presented a piece of cloth that I recognized as part of his coat. I remember stroking a nearby cow at the graveside. Long before my liberation [from a concentration camp] I had lost all emotion. I didn’t laugh; I didn’t cry. My physical status improved rapidly after I returned home, but my feelings remained a blank.
My father’s funeral took place on a dark, cool afternoon in October 1945. He had taught me the importance of showing one’s last respects by attending a person’s funeral. But he did not receive that respect. The chief rabbis and cantor gave the service in the cemetery’s synagogue, but only a handful attended. Hungarian people lived under constant fear of the drunken Russian soldiers who robbed men and molested women.
After the service we walked to a parcel that became the burial ground for many other martyrs. My father’s grave was only partially dug. One of my mother’s employees jumped in and completed the evacuation. That was the first time I wept. All my father’s love for life, compassion, and respect for other humans turned out to be a one-way street leading to a sorrowful end. His final grave was not even ready to receive him.
Whenever I return to Budapest, I visit my father’s grave on the first and last day of my trip. If my visit happens to be on a Saturday or on a holy day when the cemetery is closed, I find a way to boost myself over the high stone perimeter wall. Then I kiss the cold, hard marble of his grave marker, as I remember kissing his warm, gentle face. “Even death could not come between us.”
Here are Dr. Fisch’s books. I highly recommend them.
Click here to order Light from the Yellow Star: A Lesson of Love from the Holocaust.
Click here to order Fisch Stories: Reflections on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Click here to order The Metamorphosis to Freedom.
Click here to order The Sky Is Not the Limit.
Click here to order Dear Dr. Fisch: Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor.
Click here to view all my posts featuring Dr. Robert Fisch.
Click here to view all my posts about concentration camp survivors.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
If you feel more stressed than blessed . . . if you have more confusion than clarity about how to live your beliefs . . . if you long to live a richer, happier, more meaningful life . . . you will find a wealth of insight and guidance in Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World.
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