The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

I made an important new friend.

[I wrote this a few days ago, but didn't make time to post it. So, all mentions of time are in reference to Friday, July 22.]

Yesterday, I was on the third floor doing rounds when I ran into an old man by the nurses' station. He said, "I believe that I am lost," to which I responded, "Happens to me all the time. Where are you supposed to be?" He wasn't sure, said a room number which turned out to be wrong, but eventually we figured out where his wife was admitted. He was in the wrong tower (hospitals are like mazes) so I walked him across the skybridge to the right place. As we were walking, I asked about his wife. He said they'd been married 63 years -- quite an accomplishment. They were married in 1948, just after the war, he said. He told me their first house had been a tent. I laughed, assuming he was exaggerating. He smiled broadly and said, "No, no, I am meaning it." [English turned out to be his third language.] I asked why their first house was a tent, and he replied that the settlements in the new nation of Israel hadn't been built yet.

I was talking to my very own, real, live Holocaust survivor. I stammered something about that being amazing, and he just smiled that same, wide smile. At this time, we were at his wife's room, and his grandson and the nurse were there, so I just dropped him off, mentioning what an honor it was to meet him, and moseyed back over to the other tower.

I couldn't believe how lovely he was. I went back today to check on him and see if he would tell me his whole life story, basically. He was overjoyed to see me! It was glorious. He gave me a hug and thanked me for helping him find his way the day before. He claimed he was getting senile, but I told him it was just the complicated hospital layout. It took me about a week to realize there were two different towers, so, I'm pretty smart and stuff. I peeked in at his wife and asked how she was doing. He said she was doing okay, and that the hospital staff was so wonderful. He said that his main concern was that she not have any pain, and that was what they were doing, so he was very happy. He seemed content that his wife would die peacefully, and that that would be okay. He said, "she has been through much worse." I nodded, trying to comprehend what she'd probably been through before. He read my mind, and asked if he'd told me how they met.

He'd been at Buchenwald, she at Auschwitz. She hadn't immediately gone to Auschwitz, it seems. She'd been a teacher, and therefore spoke perfect German. This, combined with her blonde hair, had managed to keep her safe, though she'd met Dr. Josef Mengele on two separate occasions. Can you even imagine the terror of those encounters? He didn't suspect her of being a Jew, so she thought she was safe. A terrified neighbor eventually turned her in. She was at Auschwitz long enough to have those five identification numbers tattooed on her arm, but also long enough to be liberated. Her cousin was at Buchenwald, and had made a new friend. (I bet you can guess who.) He'd been separated from his family, and didn't know if they were alive or where they were, so he went home with his friend, her cousin. They met and fell in love.

A long life and beautiful romance that could so easily never have been. He told me that it was not a scary thing to die at this age (he's between 85 and 90, I'd guess) because they thought they were going to die when they were very young. Having lived through imprisonment and enslavement and all manners of horror in Nazi concentration camps, this death she is now dying probably seems light-years away from what death once meant. This (relatively) painless, quiet, dignified death seems like an entirely different concept than the deaths their friends and families had by gas chamber and by disease and starvation.

I took a class on Holocaust literature and film senior year of college. You may recall a post or two from that time; I don't even remember if I wrote any. It was a devastating semester. I came out of that class every Tuesday night heartbroken at the lives and losses of those people. I watched hours of film and read pages of memoirs and saw pictures of faces and bodies and so little hope. The people who made it out of the camps alive are the greatest manifestations of triumph of the human will that I can imagine.

I remember most from that class many words from Elie Weisel. He seems to be the most recognizable Holocaust survivor. He said at some point that the most important thing we must do in a post-Holocaust world is never let anyone forget that it happened. To never forget those who lived and died in a Holocaust world.

The piece of human history that I met today does not consider himself to be anything out of the ordinary. To him, he is just a man, sitting in a hospital as the love of his life slowly slips away. He says he is lucky to have made it out of Buchenwald, lucky to have met his wife, and lucky to be sitting here, telling it to me. He is a beautiful human being and I will never forget him.

Bobby + Matt

If Harry Potter is not a significant part of your life, I am so sorry.