Holocaust Survivor Visits West Ranch

Jay Park, Staff Writer

“Hope and optimism was the only thing I had to live on,” 88-year-old Henry Oster says with a wistful gaze, recalling his desperate struggle for survival.

Oster is a Holocaust survivor. He grew up as a German Jew, constantly harassed as a child by his own neighbors. His father starved to death after six weeks in the Lodz ghetto. For years he had to forage for food to feed his mother and himself, all the while passing selections that decided whether or not he was fit to live. Death surrounded him all those years. After seeing the very people who  prayed to be saved  were the first ones to die, Oster lost his faith.  His iron will, miraculously kept him alive through the Auschwitz-Birkenau, the notorious extermination camp that claimed the lives of over 1.1 million people, including his mother. This incredible individual spoke to West Ranch sophomores in the theater, retelling his experience.

Oster shared a harsh lesson of what the dark side of humanity can deteriorate into. We’d like to believe that something has changed for the better since the Holocaust. Henry Oster has reason to disagree.

“There will always be one somewhere in the world. What I see wrong with the world is that we haven’t learned very much,” he said.  Since the Holocaust, humanity stood by as 41 genocides took place from Africa to South America.

“Conditions and people will allow things to happen in different countries that will not be as extreme or concentrated as the Holocaust, but it will continue. We have conflicts that don’t have limits, no borders, and people agree, participate, support them. So there’s nothing easily definable as what’s wrong with the world, but it hasn’t changed.”

It is frightening to know how much we believe that things are alright in the world because we live in ignorance or naivety. Oster tells us that we have already taken steps towards chaos.

“I don’t know how any of you voted, but I’m convinced that this will be the second shortest presidency in history, because this cannot go on. Think of all the people who voted for these ideas without even knowing how these will actually affect America.”

Oster has lived through the same experience before. The very person who swore to uplift the country led the country to a catastrophe.
“Past and future, politicians make promises they simply cannot keep. It takes Congress, it takes the states, but during the campaign, they believe it,” Oster said.

He believes there are  a surprising number of correlations between pre-World War II Germany and current America.

“‘Make Germany great again as we rise from the ashes of defeat’ and such. Like then, we will learn gradually- oops- we made a mistake.”

Still, Oster hopes for a brighter future, where the good of humanity will triumph.

“I don’t hate. I never hated the Germans, as you normally would expect. Hate doesn’t do you any good. In my way of thinking, life is a one-way trip, you got to make the most of it. Having something against others just isn’t productive. But kids are prejudiced, from school, from families, from nationalities. You can’t sort it out by a presentation, you can only make aware of it. They have to do it on their own.”

He wanted the sophomores at West Ranch to understand that our personal prejudice can hurt others, and it’s time to change that. Instead of lashing out at others for having different ideas, we could silently acknowledge them and simply move on. There’s no need to create a conflict.

He departed us with a final message.

“If there was one positive thing that came of the catastrophe, it’s relevance.”

We seem to forget this often. Everyday could be so much more enjoyable if we reminded ourselves of relevancy. We constantly struggle over the small details, and stress over the littlest things. Things such as traffic aren’t worth getting angry at, it just happens and we should treat it as such.

“What is so important in life? What is more important than anything else? It’s meaning still diminishes, like the impact of what they think is a tragic event, tragic conditions, or a tragic situation. You can’t expect people to understand these things, no matter how much you read. I never expected somebody to be empathetic because you just can’t put yourself in a position like that,” said Oster.

Thank you Henry Oster, your experiences and wisdom were inspirational. Hopefully many of us will take your advice to our hearts.