A Holocaust Love Story
Oprah called it “the single greatest love story” she had ever heard.
When Herman Rosenblat recounted his experience as a teenage inmate at Buchenwald, he described a young girl who saw him from the other side of the barbed wire. She pulled an apple from her pocket and threw it across the fence to feed a starving boy.
Twelve years later on the other side of the ocean, he recognized that young girl when he was on a blind date at Coney Island. The couple married and were together for more than 56 years until Herman’s recent death at 85.
It is a beautiful story. It appeared in “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and resulted in Mr. Rosenblat’s appearance on “Oprah” along with advances for a book and movie. Unfortunately, it never happened. The headline in The New York Times obituary read, “Herman Rosenblat, 85, Dies; Made Up Holocaust Love Story.”
After celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on “Oprah” in 2007, Mr. Rosenbalt confessed, “The reality was that I wasn’t telling the truth, because she didn’t throw the apple to me, but in my mind I believed she did.”
Why did Mr. Rosenbalt embellish the truth of his experience in the concentration camp and his long marriage with the fictional apple tossing story? “I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate but to love and tolerate all people,” he said. “I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world. In my dreams, Roma will always throw me an apple, but I now know it is only a dream.” At least his motives were good.
We’ve seen some serious biography inflation in the media lately. Brian Williams lost his anchor seat at NBC for exaggerating his experience in Iraq. At least he acknowledged it an apologized. Bill O’Reilly is fighting mad at the folks who uncovered his exaggeration about being in a “war zone.” The head of the VA apologized for saying that he was in the Special Forces when he wasn’t. What’s with these guys? What leads people to exaggerate their experience or inflate their resume?
The biblical diagnosis is pride. Not healthy pride, but the unhealthy kind. It’s the self-absorbed pride that caused the Hebrew sages to say, “Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
Any of us — all of us — can be tempted to inflate our importance or to make ourselves look just a little bit better than we actually are. All of us can present a polished persona to the world that is inconsistent with who we really are. The biblical antidote is humility.
The Beauty of Humility
Now, there’s a word we don’t hear often. That’s part of what got the President into trouble at the National Prayer Breakfast. Any sign of humility on the red carpet at the Oscars? Who really wants to be “humble” these days? And yet, when we actually see it, genuine humility is a beautiful thing.
Preparing for Lent this year, I found myself led to explore the beauty of humility. Old Testament professor, Ellen Davis, said that humility begins in recognizing that we are not God. It means acknowledging that I’m like everyone else, with strengths and weaknesses, imperfect, prone to spiritual arrogance and infected with a tendency toward self-righteous judgement of others.
The 25th Psalm promises that the Lord “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” Duh. That makes sense. The only people who can be taught are those who know they don’t have all the answers. That’s humility.
On Ash Wednesday I found myself praying: “Lord, teach me the beauty, strength, peace, compassion and freedom that is grounded in humility. May I be humble enough to be taught; unsure of my own wisdom so that I may learn the ways of God.”
A little humility helps and there’s no better time than Lent to discover it.
Grace and peace,