"...I have tried to keep memory alive... I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices." — Elie Wiesel
One of my favorite TV shows that I watch religiously with my wife is Survivor. Their motto is Out Wit, Out Last, Out Play. We watch weekly as contestants battle for immunity or reward. We see them battle, suffer and loose weight, but of course in the end only one comes out victorious, only one becomes that seasons Survivor. The only problem is that I can’t help but thinking when I watch that show, these people are not true survivors. For them that word just does not fit, and that is because I knew a true Survivor, I knew Al.
Al and Sonia Nisenbaum are the truest of survivors. Both Alan and Sonia are survivors of the Holocaust. Al was born in February 19th 1925 in Lubin, Poland. He was one of nine children. When the Nazis invaded Poland Al was only a boy. He was separated from his family, and besides one of his brothers who also survived, he never saw his family ever again. Al was sent to Auschwitz and while he was a prisoner of the Nazis he spent time at a total of six different concentration camps including Majdanek, Blechhammer, Budzyn, Gleiwitz III, and Dachau from which he was liberated. When the war ended he was only 17 and was sent to a displaced persons camp. He had been educated at the Yeshiva before the war and could speak fluent Hebrew. In the DP camp he became a teacher. One of his students was a girl who was only fifteen at the time. Al taught her Hebrew and he was so taken by her that they soon married. In the DP camp they had a daughter they named Linda, and soon moved to America to start a new life in Chicago. Since then Al and Sonia had two more daughters who all married and collectively gave them seven grandchildren. Al and Sonia’s first daughter, Linda married Harry, who’s parents David and Mimi, were also Survivors. I was fortunate enough to marry Al and Sonia’s first grand daughter and together we gave them two wonderful great-grandchildren.
Many times I have heard my wife tell me that she was a miracle child, because if just one of her four grandparents had not survived the Holocaust she would not be here today. But the truth is so much more. The truth is all of Al and Sonia’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are miracles, and not only are they a testament to the strength, will and determination of Al and Sonia to survive and then prevail, but they are also a testament to the failure of the Nazis and their senseless attempt at the ethnic cleansing of Europe. Alan went on to accomplish so much in his life. He was able to turn the most unimaginable experiences in his life in to a triumph, and he set the bar on how to be a good person as high as it could go. He was kind and generous, smart and funny. He became not only a successful business man but a community and religious leader as well. But through it all he always put his family first. He had an appreciation for life that only someone who had been through what he had been through could have. As a seventeen year old man, in a DP camp he never dreamed that one day he would be a man in his eighties, surrounded by loved ones that were his family. He never dreamed that he would have three daughters who he would all get to see marry. He never dreamed that he would have seven grandchildren and attend two of their weddings, and finally he never dreamed that he would get to sit at the Passover table next to his great-granddaughter who could not wait to sing songs with her Papa Al. Papa Al died this past Friday but he will live on forever in the family that he left behind. He was one of the true survivors and he will truly be missed by everyone that came to know him. Papa Al may never have won immunity or a challenge for reward, but in the game of life he definitely Out Wit, Out Lasted, and Out Played.