transcript of survivor’s story
[elipses indicate long pauses, not excisions]
I sat at a table after I gave a speech in New Mexico a couple of years ago. And during that speech, I had mentioned that I had been raped—violently—by my swim coach as a 14-year-old. And it was a devastating experience that weighed very heavily on my spirit and my life…and trust.
And I spoke about it during the speech. And that night I was at this dinner table afterwards—I was invited to eat with some of the faculty at this university—and I was put right next to a woman who was old. She was 88 years old. And obviously, she was the most respected one there. And she was the life of the party, her mind totally together. And she told wonderful stories. And obviously everyone, myself included, was captivated by her.
And at one point, she reached for something on the table and, as her sleeve pulled back, I saw the numbers etched in her forearm. She was a Holocaust survivor. And I said, “oh, my gosh, you’re a survivor.”
And she said, “I am.”
And I said, “well, it’s an odd situation at a social dinner table, but would you tell me about it?”
And she told me that, when she was three years old, the Gestapos came to their home in Germany and, in a hurry, their family—father, mother, six-year-old older sister, and she—were supposed to pack up. And they were gonna be put on a train. And they were going to Treblinka. And the father said, “I’m not going, you can kill me.” And they did, and she remembered it. At the age of 88, she remembered that three-year-old horror.
And her mother and her sister and she were put onto a train where they couldn’t even sit for five days. And people were so crowded like cattle in that car. They had to defecate and urinate on the floor. There was no light. And, when the doors finally opened at the end of five days, the light was blinding. And her mother took the six-year-old in her right hand, and her, the three-year-old in her left hand, and walked down, scared to death, off that platform. And the mother and the six-year-old were taken to the right, and she was taken to the left, and she never saw them again. They perished in the gas chamber.
And she immediately was made into the SS officers’ little concubine. And for the 2 ½ years she was in that camp, she was forced to do all manners of sexual activity with these men every day. And she was three, and four, and almost five.
And I started to cry. And I started to cry because of her story, but I also felt tremendous shame that, earlier that evening, I had spoken of my little story. And I told her that—I was ashamed. And she got up, spry, she took my hand, and she took me into the back corridor, and she looked me in the eyes, and she says, “everyone on this earth is allowed their pain and their feelings. The point is, do we rise above them?”
And I said, “well then how did you…how did you possibly go through that trauma? And look at you now, the light of life in your eye. Look at the respect you got. Look at the happiness you obviously have in your soul.”
And she said, “well it’s odd you put it that way, because,” she said, “when I finally got out, when the allies saved us, and I was taken to Paris, I was raised by some distant cousins.” She said, “one of the older women of the family said to me, ‘darling, you will never ever, of course, forget what happened to you. But put it deep, put it deep down in your soul. And don’t ever let it live on your skin. Because it’s a beautiful world, and you want to be part of it.”
And I’ll tell ya’, this woman, she’s not famous, she doesn’t tell that story in places like this, but she should. It helped me more than years and years on a psychologist’s coach—her courage and her attitude.