This Sunday, April 27th, is “Holocaust Remembrance Day”. With my own family history, I felt compelled to contact my friend Jack Adler, Holocaust author and lecturer – and one of the most endearing, gentle people I know. We are honored to share some of his heartfelt and moving firsthand accounts of surviving the Holocaust in the death camps - one of them being Auschwitz.
Yacob (Jack) Adler was liberated in 1945 at the age of 16 years old weighing only 65 pounds - and probably could not have lasted another day. The brutality and torture he withstood from the Nazi’s is beyond comprehension.
Adler was a young boy when the Nazi soldiers occupied his home of Pabianice, Poland. As Jack tells us in his book, he witnessed the death and decay of humanity while enduring the tortures of several concentration camps. With his heartbreaking narration, he watches helplessly as his youngest sister, Peska, is led to her death: "Peska turned one last time. We locked eyes...her blonde hair fell over her face as she twisted to see me. Her beautiful, full eyes should never have been consumed by that much fear. She turned back when the woman behind her pushed, and then they all moved on to the gas chambers."
Jack Adler lost his entire family to this senseless slaughter, and still is here today in his mid 80’s filled with so much hope and love for mankind. He still struggles with why and how such bigotry and hatred could take place in a so-called civilized society. Jack’s mission, and passion, in life is sharing his personal experiences of somehow surviving a Nazi ghetto and several concentration camps by speaking to schools, civic, military and religious groups. The message he resonates is "Respect everyone as a human being, and do not perpetuate hate.”
As Jack came to the United States after going through the Holocaust, he had to lift himself up from being soulless to becoming a proud American citizen, with a pledge to speak for those who perished. He also had to overcome his nightmare experiences, by trying to forgive, and to educate those who didn't know or understand about the"dark age" he personally witnessed, endured and survived.
Adler talks with around 45,000 people annually making it a total of about a million listeners so far. When a student asked him why he believes that his life was spared, he said: “So I can be here today and speak to you. I represent six million.” Talking with young people about his true life experiences has become his personal triumph, and he has made a positive difference in their lives. A few comments from some of the students Jack has talked with: “Very touching, he came to my school Thursday and spoke to us... This is a very strong man.” “He is such a kind, loving man. His experiences rocked me to the bone. Now I respect people, even if they hate me.”
Adler is a man with a resilient, unbroken spirit that is fearless and tireless. In the midst of this special remembrance, I celebrate Jack and what he has done to help us come to grips with one of the darkest times in history. Let his voice carry on for many years to come... Just like Jack Adler, we must never give up hope for a peaceful, tolerant world... now - and through the generations.
(At this time, Jack Adler is on his way to attend the annual “March of the Living” program in Poland (for his fourth time) which brings thousands of young people, as well as survivors and their families, from around the world each year on "Holocaust Remembrance Day" to Auschwitz-Birkenau to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust - and to pledge to build a better world for all humanity.)
What changes do you see in the students after you talk with them about the Holocaust? They show disbelief when they hear the story. They promise not to tolerate racism and all bigotry.
When you were writing your memoir Y: A Holocaust Narrative , what kept you going? Thinking of my loved ones.
Were there times you thought you wouldn’t be able to finish your memoir? I never gave it a thought.
What other books/movies that you have read or seen really depicts the horrors of the Holocaust that others (especially our young people) should read or see? Shindler’s List, The Pianist, and The Diary of Anne Frank.
What do you consider a priceless gift? The ability to do the right thing.
What word best describes your life right now? A survivor with a mission.
Before the Holocaust, what is your fondest childhood memory? How loving a family I came from.
What is something your parents taught you that you have never forgotten? To respect others.
Do you have a quote, motto or saying that so far has helped guide you through life? I live by the mutual respect guided by the golden rule – and: “A religious or political title of a person does not make a man, the content of his character defines that man.” “A man can make money, but money doesn’t make a man…” along those lines.
Jack, what do you still want to accomplish during your lifetime? To continue to speak as I have for the past 22 years to students, civic, church and military groups about the evil we call the Holocaust.
Are there any leisure activities or hobbies that help you escape the memories and pain you carry with you? Talking with my children and my grandchildren.
After what you have witnessed, what is your biggest fear today? The evil in the world.
What are your thoughts about Israel and the constant issues they face? Israel cannot and should not give in to those that say Israel has no right to exist. Hope this attitude will change soon.
What should we all be working on these days to make sure something like the Holocaust will never happen again? Educate humanity to rid itself of hate towards others.
How do we get our young people interested in wanting to do more to prevent future hatred like what you experienced? Through education at home, school, and religious organizations.
Can you ever forgive those who killed the innocent children? It’s not up to me to forgive however those who commit the atrocities to any group of people should be brought to justice and dealt with accordingly.
What makes you the angriest about our world today? Lack of understanding of what hate has and can lead to.
What kept you from losing your mind in the camps? Thinking of my loved ones.
Where are you and God with each other these days? God created man, man created evil. Man alone is responsible for the way we treat each other.
Did you come out of the horror of The Holocaust with your ability to love intact? Yes.
How did you come to grips with your survival and that your family and others did not? Survived to tell humanity, and I do, what happened to 6 million men/women and a million and a half innocent children.
Don't you think your survival has something to do with who you've become and what you've wanted to say to others about The Holocaust – and hatred? Yes.
Does speaking to people about The Holocaust help you go on with your life? Yes.
After you were liberated, what did you do? Immediately I was hospitalized in a displaced person’s camp, Faehrenwald camp in Germany, then I worked when I came out with the United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). I delivered mail and messages for the people in the Faehrenwald camp.
How did your experience affect the way to raised your children? I hope in a proper way… however only they can answer this.
Tell us something about your experiences of going back to Poland for the "Walk of the Living", and why you go back year after year? At first I refused to go back. When I realized how the young people who participated in the March of the Living had such a desire to learn about the past – especially from someone who lived through it, I changed my mind and now it’s my fourth year of going back.
Are people ever the same after visiting to Auschwitz? Never.
What brings you the greatest joy today? My children, grandchildren, and my lifetime partner, Judy.
How would you like to be remembered by future generations? As one who tried his best to educate about what happens when hate is not stopped.