Abraham H. Foxman's Story: A Life Saved, A Life of Service
Part II: A Life of Service
After I graduated from New York University Law School, I joined the staff at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Ever since, my life's work has been in Jewish advocacy and the defense of human rights for all people. Perhaps this is the legacy of my years as a Hidden Child.
It is a great source of pride for me that ADL helped arrange the First International Gathering of Children Hidden During World War II. In May, 1991 some 1,600 of us were reunited in New York City. Together, we broke the silence about how we survived Hitler's killing machine. We spent three extraordinary days talking with each other and about each other. We spent time exchanging stories about our hiding places: how we lived for months in sewers, closets, barns and fields; how we joined the partisans and fought the enemy; how we stayed alive living openly as Christians. We examined the guilt that continues to haunt us; the pain we felt at losing our loved ones; our anger; our inability to speak of these experiences with our family; our identity crises; and our confused, frightening, lost childhoods. Since then we have joined with the conference organizers to establish the Hidden Child Foundation/ADL, under the auspices of the ADL Braun Center for Holocaust Studies.
I'm convinced there are thousands of Jews who don't know they are Jewish, especially in Poland. There were more Jewish children at risk there and therefore more opportunities to save them. Every day we lose potential Jewish souls because their foster parents died without telling them that they were children of Jewish parents -- either because they didn't want to discombobulate their lives, or because of the stigma of having saved Jews, or because of feeling guilty for not having told them before. All these things conspire against truth telling.
Now, when I visit Poland for a public event to recognize Christian rescuers, more and more Jewish "children" emerge. We can only wonder about the fate of the children who did not. How many Nobel Prize winners did we lose? How man doctors, scientists? These thoughts will always be with me and motivate me to try harder and to reach a little higher to succeed in life.
We need to lift our thoughts beyond the bestiality of that era. Our mission now as Hidden Children is to focus on the goodness of humankind. We need to bring the message to friends and foes alike that there is hope, that there are men and women of good will with the courage to care about others. My family and I will be eternally grateful to all the people who contributed to our survival.
"Tolerance" is not a wonderful word, but I will settle for it because we've learned that the human being is capable of evil. Hate and prejudice, of which anti-Semitism is one form, are irrational and if someone tells you you're a dirty Jew, the fact that you're going to show him how clean you are won't mean a thing. And if they say you control the media and you show them they're wrong, the facts still don't matter. So if we can bring people with prejudices to the point of exercising tolerance, I will be satisfied and I think we will have a better world.
There are all kinds of theories as to why people go into certain professions. Some people seem to have a need for certain occupations. Regardless of how accurate those theories are, I feel privileged to be able to spend my adult life dealing with both the good and bad aspects of my childhood experiences. If I had to choose whether I would take this path again, I think that I would.
I did not start at ADL in 1965 knowing or believing I would be the National Director, which is awesome, because I believe it is a sacred trust. Even though I cannot scientifically measure what the League has done in the past 90 years, or what I personally have done, but I am convinced that without ADL, the situation in our world would be far worse. The Talmud (the written interpretation of Jewish law) says that if you save one life, you save the world. I think we've saved lives.
If I knew how to put the ADL out of business, I would. That would be the greatest achievement of all. If I could only find a vaccine for prejudice! I do believe we can change people's hearts and minds, whether by exposure, education or a million other ways. I also believe that we are each the masters of our own fate. We have the ability to change our own destiny.