This session I sat down with Marie, a cheerful and kind woman who seemed to be on the younger side relative to the other survivors. Her recounting of life before the war was undoubtedly different than many other survivors because she was a young child who had to later on search for her story. Her parents never spoke about their experiences to her because what seems to be a common coping mechanism, they did not want to be reminded.

However, Marie and her family were blessed with unusual fortune during this time of hostility and untrustworthiness. Her parents trekked from Poland to the free zone in the southwest of France to Albi, a small cement factory village. Her father worked at the factory to support the family until he was forced into hiding by 1942 where he lived in a cave. The entire town protected the young family of Marie, her baby sister, and her mother during this time where people were turning in Jews. Two families were responsible for taking care of Marie, the two sisters received false baptisms, and the doctor that secretly helped give birth to Marie’s sister was turned in and sent to Auschwitz. It was incredibly touching to see Marie’s influx of emotions as she discussed the families that had risked their lives to help her. It was a village of few Jews, maybe one other family, and the remaining Catholic villagers did all in their power to watch over them. Even when Marie’s father was in hiding, the cement factory falsified the records so Nazi inquiries would be fruitless.

This session was exactly what I needed to refresh my faith in humanity and in myself. It is too easy, too comfortable, and too normal to slip back into a daily routine of worries that by no means reflect my life’s ultimate priorities. Talking to Marie, whose parents married not out of love but out of survival, and hearing other stories where my daily concerns seem so trivial was my reality check. I left the session reawakened and grateful for my life and my loved ones, for the opportunities that I have had and will continue to have, for my awareness and empowerment to fight against human injustices.

One of my overarching questions about Holocaust survivors is to see how their interpretation of Judaism had changed and evolved throughout their experiences. I often wonder what such a life would do to my beliefs which vacillate on a regular basis without being so fundamentally challenged to constantly witness the goodness and evil of humankind. This is a question I will continue to ask. Having similar stories, how is that some people find G-d while others seem to lose G-d?