Several weeks ago, before the recent tragedy in Pittsburgh, I found myself serving as a Washington, DC tour guide for out-of-town relatives. The “must see” for them was the Holocaust Museum. I had visited on two previous occasions, each timed to ages when our sons might fully process the magnitude and implications of a very sad period in the history of mankind.
Our group proceeded through the museum at different paces, individually focused on powerful displays and stories. After two hours, I found myself waiting at a large table near the museum exit for the group to come back together.
A distinguished, unassuming man approached the table, slowly opened a locked two-draw file cabinet, and with a purposeful mannerism displayed a sign – “Talk with a Holocaust Survivor.” Without a word, he sat next to me and slide a piece of paper across the table. The document contained a picture of a young man, his story of survival, and the loss of parents and a sister in a death camp. I read in silence and wondered how to respond, if at all.
I then realized that an opportunity, really a person, was inviting me to be curious. I had the privilege of talking with Louis, a Holocaust survivor, for a few but precious minutes. I asked of him two questions.
Having survived, what was the most important lesson he learned? "Be concerned."
To my second question, Given this learning, what advice would he offer for today? Louis' response, - "Be active…educate but don't lead with emotions." Louis practiced what he preached.
Louis reminded me of a high school teacher's challenge after a deep dive study into the Holocaust, to remember how terrible humans could treat humans, and to apply that awareness to the times we live in. My teacher emphasizing that it could happen again. Rwanda.
Louis presented an invitation and opportunity to engage, to connect, and to become friends for a period of time while exchanging new ideas. Louis agreed to be photographed and I sent him two pictures. His email reply, “These are terrific!”
The Louis of the world are really what is terrific. They set the example with wise counsel for ways to communicate, treat, and productively interact to open possibilities for new relationships, and new understandings. Something, maybe, to reflect on.