“Holocaust education trip looks to the future”
By Rachel Goodman
Max Glauben likes to hum. He’ll hum anything really, but he’s particularly fond of Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” the Israeli national anthem “Hatikva,” and a Yiddish melody he learned as a boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The 87-year-old hums when he makes his breakfast, when he drives his white Cadillac to go tell his story to anyone who asks, and when he leads groups of high school seniors from Dallas out of the gas chamber of Majdanek, a concentration camp just three miles from Lublin, Poland, from where his mother and younger brother never escaped along with an estimated 360,000 others.
Glauben says the habit is part of what kept him alive during his five-year internment in five different Nazi camps during the Holocaust.
Between 1933 and 1945, Adolf Hitler and his German Nazi party killed 6 million of the 11 million Jews of Europe. Within those years, Jews were rounded up into walled ghettos and then corralled into boxcars traveling to one of the 20,000 labor and death camps across the region. By the end of World War II, only 10 percent of Polish Jews made it out alive — Glauben was one of them.
In Majdanek, the Dallas-area teenagers, wrapped up in clothing from head to toe — earmuffs, coat, scarf, gloves — gather around the 5-foot-2-inch Glauben in front of a monstrous mausoleum. The biting Polish winter numbs their extremities, its whistling wind dries their wet eyes. The rusted copper and stone monument that stands before them is filled with the ashes of those who perished there; the lingering smell of death still hangs in the air.
“Life is like Texas weather – it’s ups and downs,” Glauben said. “Always look for a brighter future, and as long as there is a little light at the end of the tunnel, one should never give up.”
The deep lines of his face signal a life filled with laughter and good memories, despite the horrors he has endured.
Since 1988, the program has taken over 200,000 Jewish youth from across the world to Poland for a week to bear witness to the places of the Holocaust and explore the concepts of hatred, prejudice and genocide. Ten times, he’s participated as a survivor on this March of the Living trip.
On Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, survivors and participants march from Auschwitz to the Birkenau concentration camp to commemorate the death march that Jews were forced on in the final stages of World War II. This year, Glauben was one of over 10,000 people who made the almost 2-mile trek on April 16.
For most of those marches, he has walked arm-in-arm with Pam Fine, coordinator of the Dallas March of the Living.
“The thing that is most remarkable about Max on the trip is that he teaches the students about optimism,” Fine said. “He teaches them not to hate, to learn the lessons of the Holocaust in a way that moves them in a positive direction and not in a negative direction.”
As Glauben speaks, the letters “KL” branded on his skin peek out from beneath his shirtsleeve. The tattoo, which stands for “konzentrationslager,” or concentration camp in German, was stabbed into his arm with an ink-dipped pen during the war. Just below it, sits a black rubber bracelet imprinted with “UPSTANDER” in crisp white lettering.
Glauben is adamant about his mission to not only educate the next generation about the horrors of the Holocaust, but also to teach others to be upstanders rather than bystanders.
“We better start being people that care about others and care about what we are doing to each other,” Glauben said. “Don’t allow some of the horrible things that go by happen without being noticed.”
Getting that message across is becoming increasingly urgent, Glauben said. In the past year, global anti-Semitism has risen 38 percent, according to a report by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry. The 766 instances of violent anti-Semitism included vandalism at religious sites and cemeteries, and physical attacks and direct threats against people and Jewish institutions such as schools, community centers and synagogues.
With this recent development, the organizers are finding it ever more important to teach participants how to prevent a future Holocaust, according to Jack Rosenbaum, the director of the March of the Living’s southern region.
“We have to let students know that if they’re not diligent, you never know,” Rosenbaum said. “The Holocaust happened because we didn’t have diligence and we didn’t have the mechanisms in place to fight back. Now we do, and we are and we will — they just have to be educated.”
That’s especially important for the participants that go on to attend a university, Rosenbaum said.
In the first sixth months of the 2013-2014 academic year, 54 percent of Jewish students on American campuses had experienced anti-Semitism, according to the National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students.
Rachel Chanon, a sophomore at Indiana University and a Dallas participant on the 2013 March of the Living trip, has already witnessed that first hand.
“When I’ve experienced anti-Jewish sentiments on campus, I feel like its my duty to Max and other survivors for what they endured to stand up for who I am,” the 20-year-old communications and culture major said. “Max changed my perspective on life completely and I can’t imagine having gone on that trip without him.”
Even the youngest Holocaust survivors are already octogenarians. Soon, survivors will no longer be able to tell these young Jews their stories of survival as they both stand on the very ground where it all happened. The March of the Living is already planning for that approaching reality.
Past participants have crammed into a Nazi boxcar and listened as Max explains how he and others cherished the tiny droplets of condensation on the ceiling as their only resource to prevent against death from dehydration. As he reaches up to the ceiling, mimicking the act, there’s a swelling rise in sobs heard from participants.
Rosenbaum said March of the Living organizers will attempt to reproduce moments like these in the future but that it will be a difficult task.
“There are short video pieces that we have of all of our survivors. We’re going to put it on people’s phones and iPads so they can see a survivor there at the actual place where they are standing,” Rosenbaum said. “It’s not the same, but at least they get a perspective 10 years down the road when people like Max aren’t going to be able to go.”
Glauben said he hopes he will be able to attend next year’s trip, but that it might no longer be possible. When that time comes, no longer will young Jews, who have just seen the darkest of their people’s path, emerge from those depths to hear him humming the Jewish nation’s anthem:
“As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart… Then our hope — the 2,000-year-old hope — will not be lost.”