Holding on to the String of Hope

Despite the years of being held as a prisoner in Auschwitz concentration camp, survivor Mrs. Elizabeth Manning, after 66 years, still holds onto hope and looks toward the future.

Auschwitz I Concentration Camp Main Gate in Poland. Image by pciaurriz at Flickr.

In a lecture hall seated about 30 to 35 people at the Museum of Tolerance, she arrives into the room with self confidence as she heads towards the center. At center stage, she seats herself in front of the crowd, refuses to use the microphone, since the crowd confirms with her that she’s audible to them.

Mrs. Elizabeth Manning, in her mid-eighties, wears a flamboyant thick scarf around her neck, has on a thin pale sports coat over her shirt, and wears a light brown pair of pants along with her casual dress white shoe.

As she begin speaking to the audience, her voice is neither soft nor harsh; it is, however, a tone of voice that’s gentle yet firm with no hints of intimidation.

She first draws her audience close by providing them with a brief introduction of herself. Yet, she doesn’t get carry away, when sharing her brief biography, since she knows her time’s allowance for the presentation is limited since every survivor or speaker, I presume, can only share their stories within the one hour frame.

Cutting to the chase, she introduces her family: two sisters, a younger brother, a mother, and a father. Before the Aryans or pure blood Germans entered and started destroying her native Hungary home, she tells the audience that her father used to play the violin passionately when he wasn’t working. Her days, as she recounts them in her stories, are filled with happiness and some unhappiness.

Recounting her stories, Manning tells the audience that after the Aryans entered her community, her family and her were transported to the ghetto that would be her temporary home before her family and her were again relocated to Auschwitz.

Upon arriving to Auschwitz, Manning recalls seeing only darkness, and feeling cold, and seeing nothing but bare barks on trees, and hearing confusions and panic among the crowd who are transported with her, and nearby gunshots, and shouts of orders from S.S. German guards as she headed out of the train she was carried in.

At this moment, her story intensifies as she begins describing the two separate lines they were ordered to form: a men’s line, and a women and children’s line.

She takes a pause in the story. As she begins again, she explains that her younger brother was facing a moral dilemma since he has already been sworn to be a man in their religious belief and yet, at that moment, he couldn’t decide which line he belonged in. Taking on the position of being an adviser and a big sister, Manning suggested her younger brother followed the women and children’s line since she thought mothers were better at giving care to their children’s need than men. She takes another pause in her story, and begins to wail a bit as her voice begin to crack as she continue to tell her story. It was only later that she found the line her brother was in headed toward the gas chamber – and it is only then does she makes a quick reflection in this story’s moment that reveals her deepest regret and it would be something she will not be able to unload off her shoulder or heart as long as she may live.

This particular moment begin to draw the audience closer as they try to comfort her. Understanding this gesture, she thanked them, yet she knows she must continue telling the selected stories so to give the audience a closure to her tale.

As she continues with her story, she tells the audience that after she realizes her brother’s dead, her mother, father, and two sisters were also gone too, leaving her alone without really knowing what happened to them at that time. She, however, eventually learned that her mother and father were also killed in the gas chamber as one of the S.S. guards pointed at the sky where the smoke had cover, telling and laughing at her that she too will join them soon.

Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Montevideo, Uruguay. Image by Vince Alongi at Flickr.

She, however, managed to survive the Holocaust. When asked about how she managed to do so, she simply replies that isn’t quite clear, but understands that to live on with her life as a survivor she must continue to have a strong faith in hope. And to do so, whole heartily one must believe that something good will always come up even if the situation at the moment doesn’t appear to yield any goodness.

Manning’s words and experiences serve as a reminder for one to continue living with life despite one’s own hard times. And when survival doesn’t seem possible due to its rage madness, one must choose to believe that goodness will always overcome any difficult situation because evil itself cannot last or withstand any of one’s unshaken strong belief in positive hope.

Note: The following is a bibliography that cites the additional source used for this post.

Bard, Mitchell G., ed. The Holocaust. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Print.

Next Tuesday’s post on October 18. Stay tuned!

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