By Sidney Finkel
When I gave my first talk to students at Francis Parker School in Chicago in 1993, I began a meaningful journey that would prove to be an exciting and rewarding second career for me – a career that I love. And as it turns out, the journey has helped me heal the emotional wounds I had been living with for decades.
Since then, I have shared my story with thousands of students in hundreds of schools. I start by relating my experience as a seven-year-old child forced to survive in a ghetto in my home town in Poland. I describe my experiences in various labor camps. I complete the story of my family’s tragedy with my experiences at Buchenwald Concentration Camp where inmates saved me as well as 700 other children. I then tell of final liberation from Theresienstadt. I conclude by talking about my return to Buchenwald Concentration Camp as an honored guest in 2011 and 2015, and how that experience helped me in my journey to forgive and heal.
I tell my story from the perspective of eight-year-old Sevek. I try to recapture the emotions and thinking of an eight year old who by the time he is 14 finds himself stripped of his manners, civil behavior, and much of his humanity. I avoid geopolitical analyses, attempting to share with the students and teachers about lessons from history. I tell my story with as much of the unvarnished truth as I think my audience can understand and tolerate. I believe that if I tell my story truthfully and candidly, my audiences– especially, special education “students at risk”–will find the parallels and meanings for their own lives.
As I continued telling my story, two things happened. One, my story started to become more complete. Events and people who were hazy started to emerge. I began to remember people who were like angels appearing from nowhere to save my life. My brother and father were certainly angels; their lives would have been much simpler in the camps without me to worry about.
Second, I began to feel differently about some of the events that haunted me for all of my adult life. To me the most shameful episode in my life was what I considered my abandoning of my father in Buchenwald. Yet as I continued to tell and retell this episode from my life, I found it easier to live with this shame. Soon I just simply accepted it as something from the past that I could not change. In fact, I came to believe that it was useful for others because it illustrates how normal attitudes toward one’s parents can become totally corrupted by evil events. And that is how the healing process has worked for me. When I was able to accept what I regard as the worst of my actions, the worst of my attitudes and beliefs, then I began to heal and to become more and more a part of the human race.
Email Sidney at email@example.com to learn more about how he can assist you with Holocaust Education in your classroom.