Honoring the living witnesses who stay connected to history


There are fewer than 100,000 Holocaust survivors still among us, according to a 2016 Time story. And even among them, the youngest are now in their mid-70s.

All life is precious, one of the many lessons learned from Hitler’s mass genocide that killed millions. But many more survived to tell their stories to not only ensure those lessons are learned, but that we don’t repeat those atrocities ever again.

But it’s never easy. Even those who walked away from the pure horror of the time, none of them did so unscathed. Survival came with it tremendous loss. Of homes. Of property. Of their very own lives. And, most importantly, the lives of those they loved.

Martin Spett may have been described as one of the lucky ones. Unlike other survivors we count as neighbors, like Dr. Ruth Westheimer for example, Mr. Spett found himself on the other side of the war with his immediate family mostly intact.

But as you read Mr. Spett’s story, “lucky” is the last word anyone would ever use to describe his family’s ordeal. While many of us enjoy our teenage years going to school, getting our driver’s license and having our first kiss, Martin was helping his mother rescue the rest of his family, or watching hundreds of innocent people randomly killed from a hiding spot that somehow protected him.

Time does heal. Maybe not for those who survived something as horrific as the Holocaust, but for everyone else? Reading it in a book or even watching it in a movie just doesn’t have the same impact as it does interacting with someone who was a living witness.

It’s hard to imagine that there are kids in college who have no direct memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Kids in high school weren’t even born yet.

Outside of the memorials in place for where so many people tragically lost their lives throughout the city (and in Washington and Pennsylvania), 9/11 for many of today’s young people is nothing more than a chapter in their history books.

There is just some history, however, that can’t just get attention on a test or in a trivia game. And we must not only treasure those who can still give us a personal connection to the history that must never be forgotten, but we must listen. We must retain. We must do everything in our power to ensure what happened to people like Martin Spett never happens to anyone else.


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