World War II: They died that others might live

World War II holocaust survivor, Bronia Roslawowski, was born Brucha Kibel, in Turek, Poland, to Tzvi Eliezer (Hersh) Kibel and Bluma Bayrach.  She was born in about 1926 but we were never really sure about her age!  She died July 14, 2010, in her adopted hometown, Kansas City, Missouri, after a long and meaningful life.  She was beloved by all who knew her–and she seemed to know almost everyone.

On September 4, 1939, German armed forces marched into Turek, where Bronia lived with her family.  After two already difficult years, in December 1941, Bronia was sent to Inowroclaw Straflager in Northern Poland.  A “resettlement camp” during the war, it was the first of approximately 5 concentration camps in which Bronia survived the war.  In 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She worked in a forced labor camp at Telefunken plant in Reichenbach, escaped the gas chamber in 1944 and was forced on a death march shortly before war’s end. Her right arm was tattooed with the number 57365. Still, despite all that she suffered, she survived.  She was liberated by U.S. servicemen in 1945 and worked briefly in a resettlement camp before moving to the United States.  Only she and a brother survived the war.

Bronia married Mendel Roslawowski, himself a survivor of the camps.  Together they raised his son and her three daughters.  They opened the M & M Bakery at 31st & Woodland.  A popular neighborhood deli, it was a favorite of the local community, medical students and young lawyers.  Her brisket and bagel sandwiches were absolutely priceless.  She had photographs on her walls of children who frequented the deli, many of whom she fed free sandwiches and cookies.  She hugged her customers and seemed to find time to make each of her regulars feel loved.  To Bronia, no one was ever a stranger.

Bronia never forgot her war-time experiences.  She was determined not to let those experiences, or the loss of her family, control her life. She laughed easily and often.  She opened her home to her extended family and her children’s friends–who came to feel like family.  At the same time, anxious to educate her community about the horrors of war, she spoke regularly on behalf of survivors about the holocaust, and worked with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.  Her message was a message of love., stating She forgave those who harmed her, insisting they are all God’s children.  She acknowledges the hate and ugliness she saw in the world and she denounced Nazis, but not the German people.  She stated that “you cannot condemn a nation.”  “I don’t hate” she  repeated.   

Prior to her death she was one of 52 Kansas City Holocaust survivors and war refugees whose stories are included in the book From the Heart.  She is also the subject of a children’s book, Love the World, by Maureen Moffitt Wilt focused, obviously on her message of love.  It is beautifully illustrated by Jeff Porter.  The photograph of her family, taken at her granddaughter’s marriage, is an image of a woman who not only survived the war, but thrived.  She lived a rich and full life. Bronia’s life, and her message of love, are reflected in the strength and commitment to family and community of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

For Bronia, her family and all of the other Bronias, the horrors of their early lives gave way, to meaningful lives here in the United States, in Europe and throughout the world.

A victim of hate, she became a messenger for love.  She understand that as she suffered due to the hate and intolerance of others, she also was given a new life by liberation forces.  Neither their sacrifices, nor Bronia’s message of love, should be forgotten.

Advertisements

What do Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice have in Common? Czech Mentors!

Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice are dynamic women whose influences on U.S. and world events had a significant impact on foreign policy decisions.  Both served as U.S. Secretaries of State.

Albright is a Democrat, politically a moderate.  Rice is a Republican, politically a conservative. They are of different faiths, with different philosophic perspectives. Two powerful, but very different personalities, styles and beliefs. Since reading Madeleine Albright’s book, The Mighty and the Almighty, I have enjoyed discovering her world views, her life experiences and her views of the development of the U.S. as a nation and an international power. But I was still surprised when I learned of the political interconnections between Albright and Rice. It is all about mentors.

In her book,  U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, describes her values and beliefs.  She describes being influenced by her father, Josef Korbel, a Czechoslovakian diplomat, and by Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia, in whose government Korbel served. Rice also identifies Josef Korbel as a major figure in her life. So, who are these men? And how did they influence two such brilliant and unique individuals?

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) was born in Hodonin, Moravia. He was a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Prague and a visiting professor at the University of London.  He served in the Austrian Parliament from 1891 to 1893 and 1907 to 1914.  He went into exile in 1914 and organized Czechs and Slovaks living outside Austria-Hungary. He developed a network of exiles who passed intelligence to the Allies while helping to establish the Czechoslovak Legions who fought with the Allies in World War I. He traveled throughout Europe and the United States from 1916 to 1918, encouraging allied leaders to force the “disintegration” of Austria-Hungary. When Austria-Hungary fell at the end of WWI, Masaryk became head of the provisional Czech Federation.  He was elected President by the National Assembly in 1918, 1920, 1927 and 1934.  He died before the Munich Agreement was signed in September 1938. Korbel briefly served in Masaryk’s government.

Masaryk was raised Catholic and, as an adult, converted to the Unitarian faith.  He married a U.S. citizen, also Unitarian.  Albright describes him as an intellect who did not consider belief in God necessary to be moral, but did believe “religious faith, properly understood, did much to encourage and strengthen right behavior.” Masaryk considered humanism and religion to be intertwined, with religion ultimately being about showing respect for every person and helping others.

Josef Korbel was born in what is now the Czech Republic.  He was a young diplomat when he was forced to flee his homeland due to his Jewish heritage when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. He would also have been at risk of arrest due to his diplomatic ties to President Edvard Benes, President of Czechoslovakia after Masaryk’s. He returned to his homeland after World War II, served as ambassador to Luxembourg, and fled again when the communists assumed power in 1948. Sentenced to death in absentia, he was given political asylum in the United States.  It is little wonder he had a keen interest in democracy and a love for this country.   Korbel ultimately moved to the University of Denver where he founded the school bearing his name, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Even though he was Jewish by birth, Korbel appears to have espoused no religious faith in his youth, and raised his children in the Catholic faith.

Josef Korbel may be best known as Madeleine Albright’s father, but he was also a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor and 66th U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.  She studied under him at the University of Denver and describes him as a central figure in her life.  Her PhD dissertation dealt with politics and policy under communism in his homeland, Czechoslovakia.

Both Albright and Rice credit Korbel with the belief that “democratic values are at the heart of peace and stability in the world.” Both women have reflected that Korbel considered the United States the “Indispensable Nation” because of its pivotal role in world affairs. They, too, share that belief.

In understanding Secretary Albright, it is helpful to understand her admiration of Masaryk, her father, and the impact both had on her world view. In understanding her father, it is important to recognize that his beliefs were broad enough to nurture two women with such diverse points of view.  It also gives us insight into the values that influence the beliefs of both women and their perspectives of faith and politics in interacting with world and national leaders. We journey on!

The Mighty and the Almighty–Diplomacy and Faith

In my quest for greater understanding of the role of faith in government and diplomacy, I have focused on two books.  Senator John Danforth’s Faith and Politics and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s The Mighty and the Almighty.  Senator Danforth is a lifelong Republican.  Secretary Albright has been a Democrat since college.  Both are Episcopalian.  Each served as Ambassador to the UN.  Both advocate that people of faith should be active in government.  Both believe it is essential that there be respect for diversity both within the Christian community and that this respect must extend to those of other faiths and philosophical beliefs.

I focused on Senator Danforth in an earlier post.  Now I will focus on Secretary Albright.  She was born in Czechoslovakia.  Her father was a diplomat.  She was a child when Adolf Hitler was in power.  She emigrated with her family from Czechoslovakia to the United States after communists seized power in her homeland.  Educated at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, she received her PhD from Columbia University.  Raised Catholic, she converted to the Episcopal faith and, as an adult, came to learn of her Jewish heritage.  Appointed United States Secretary of State during President Clinton’s administration, she served with great distinction from January 1997 to January 2001.

Her unique family history and academic and professional experiences give her a unique perspective on the subject of her book, the role of faith in international diplomacy.  Because of her childhood experiences, she also has special insight into what a privilege it s to live in a free and democratic society.

Secretary Albright’s book is dedicated to “those of every nation and faith who defend liberty, build peace, dispel ignorance, fight poverty, and seek justice.”  Secretary Albright weaves this dedication, and her personal family history, into a scholarly but easily readable narrative of the role of faith in the earliest years of colonial America, through the founding of the Republic and through to the challenges of international diplomacy in a nuclear age.

She discusses separately and together the roles of religious belief and morality.  Her definition of what is moral as essentially that which “we associate with good:  life, liberty, justice, prosperity, health, and peace of mind.”  She describes these characteristics as the opposite of “death, repression, lawlessness, poverty, illness, and fear.”

She worries about the dangers and challenges resulting from the increase in religious passions throughout the world.  She shares the wisdom of religious scholars that effective diplomacy requires that government leaders become more knowledgeable about the faiths and cultures of the countries with whom we interact.  She believes such knowledge is essential in our endeavors to work toward reconciliation rather than toward armed conflict.  Even as she identifies herself as an optimist, she worries “the prospect of a nuclear bomb detonated by terrorists in purported service to the Almighty is a nightmare that may one day come true.”

The Mighty and the Almighty is a goldmine for those who want a brief history of the role of religious conflict on the founding of some of the earliest American colonies, about the religious perspectives of our first four Presidents, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  Because there is no way to do more than touch the surface of the issues raised by Secretary Albright.  It is wonderful material for further posts.