The People You Meet

Emma Cardin, Staff Writer

I left school ready for sunshine and socialization. The last thing I expected to do on my winter break was talk about death. But last winter I found myself on a very tropical cruise talking about the holocaust. I sat down one morning by the side of the pool with a drink in my hand when I noticed the lady next to me had a Grand Valley pool bag. So I asked her if she was from Michigan. She looked back at me like I was a little crazy and said no, why? After explaining to her I recognized the name on her bag she told me that colleges often ask her to visit as a guest speaker.

She was humble in appearance, she sat with her towel and a book.  if you saw her on the street you would walk by without a second thought. If it wasn’t for the GV symbol on her bag I would have had no idea who was sitting next to me.

I asked what she spoke about and she told me she speaks about the Holocaust. Surprised, I said something to the extent of ‘wow’, I was expecting a more mundane topic like sports medicine or literature. She must have noticed the surprised look on my face because she then said that she was one of the few survivors left. For the sake of her privacy I will not mention her name.

I didn’t know how to respond, the tragedies that ensued when Hitler took power was always something I read about in my history book, and there I was, sitting three feet away from a woman who had experienced some of the worst horrors imaginable.

Shocked and speechless, I avoided the topic and asked her what other colleges she had visited. My Mom walked over during the conversation and I introduced them. After hearing her story my mother was also very surprised to learn that she was a survivor, and asked if she wouldn’t mind talking about it.

It seemed like we talked for hours, she told us the stories of how she was taken to the camp as a toddler, seperated from her family, and escaped death more than once. 

But the story that hit me the hardest was about when she first arrived to the camp. She explained to me how she was split up from her family and put into lines and at the front of the line there was a lady who would tattoo numbers on the underside of all the prisoner’s wrists. In vivid detail she described how the woman who gave her the number tattoo was a  prisoner herself, and comforted her by saying she would make the tattoo as small and painless as possible. She recalled that right after her tattoo was complete, the woman who comforted her was shot by a Nazi soldier.

For such an emotional story she had a very controlled look on her face, but then I remembered that she probably had this story rehearsed for her guest presentations. When she was finished she turned over her wrist to present the row numbers that served as her identity during her imprisionment.

I was in complete amazement of the woman in front of me. I couldn’t even imagine what she must have witnessed. The only thing I could think about was how strong she must be.

When the time came for us to go we thanked her very much and went our separate ways.

We saw her several times throughout the cruise and would wave to each other, or exchange small talk, and when our vacation was finally over and we were on our way home my father asked me what the best part of my trip was. I said her name.

It’s often clichely said that the people you meet have all made an impression on you, and therefore made you who you are. This woman I met on vacation was more than an impression, she was an inspiration, and a truly amazing person. She has made more than an impact she has changed me. When I complain or think I don’t have the strength I think of that six year old girl who faced the world’s worst genocide and survived.