Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Hero and the Holocaust

I recently met an amazing man named Aaron Elster. His childhood ended before he was ten. War was not a game for Aaron to play like my grandson plays today.War was reality. Fear and death surrounded him. The horrors of the Holocaust held him prisoner and stole everything he loved.

His face, however, softened as he shared a pre-war childhood memory. He remembers mother tucking him into bed with a warmed, down comforter for a safe night's sleep. I believe there was a time when Sweet Dreams took him on nightly adventures and returned him just in time for daybreak.

However, with just a blink of his eye, Aaron went back to a place a little boy could not imagine in his wildest dreams. The nightmares of the Holocaust were real and he was wide awake. He remembers many cold winter nights wearing only shorts, shirt and shoes. Hiding alone in the forest laying on a bed of leaves with a loaf of bread for his pillow. Confused to say the least, little Aaron was afraid to sleep. What if Death surprised him and took him away? He saw so much death but it never became his friend.

Later, he hid in an attic - never leaving his small, lice and mice infested world for two years. The tin plate roof on a hot summer day was like living in an oven.No air, just heat day after day. But oh, how refreshing was the heavenly choir of raindrops on that tin roof. He could join in song or.... just scream. No one could hear. It felt good to do something. To help keep his sanity, he often imagined being The Hero of his dreadful story called Survival.

If Aaron were a hero, maybe he could save his younger sister, Sara, from the gas chamber. Maybe his mother would open her arms for a hero's welcome home. Maybe he could single-handedly get the bad guys so the killings would stop. Well, his dream came true but not as he expected. His sister and father perished, his mother rejected him and the bad guys murdered six million Jews before the war's end. But Aaron is a hero to me.

I'm sure he doesn't feel like a hero when he lost everything. He may not even be a hero by today's standards of being talented, famous or rich. But he is a hero from a biblical definition of one who is couragous and breaks through barriers so that others can rise to their best, to their destiny.
Heroes are not the ones that never fail, but the ones who never give up. - Author unknown

Aaron never gave up.
Today, Aaron has the courage to tell his story. He breaks through the barrier of hate and leaves a path of hope.

Aaron is a vice-president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois. Our young author through True Stories By Me: Holocaust Series was there to meet Mr. Elster for an interview and write his true story. He greeted us with a smile but it quickly faded as we entered the "dark" side of the building representing the decent into darkness - The Holocaust. History came alive as we reverently walked the hallways. History also broke my heart and made me cry.

I tried to see reflections of the past in Aaron's eyes but they were so dark, so full of pain. But we kept walking, listening and remembering. We eventually moved into the "light" wing of the museum where stories of survival, liberation and the birth of Israel could shine. Hope was always around the corner, we just didn't know which corner but Aaron knew because he already lived it.

Heroes like Aaron make the world a better place.Heroes like Aaron encourage and enable us today to take a stand; to ask questions; to always remember there is hope.
>>>"Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children, and your children's children." Dueteronomy 4:9

To learn more about this hero visit www.aaronelster.comClick to learn more about The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center