What is strength? First, we may need to ask what strength we’re talking about. Mental strength? One’s will? The strength to withstand difficult situations and make decisions? The strength to survive? And perhaps this is simply about physical strength?
For 67 years I’ve been asking myself how I found the strength. The strength to face, every day, the blows that destiny poured on me in that cursed place known as an extermination camp.
The strength to wake up every morning at five to the sound of screams and run naked, in summer and in winter, to the frozen shower. The strength to return to my block wet and receive the dark water masking as coffee, the stale bread and piece of margarine we swallowed in seconds, to put on the striped uniform that was too big for me and the wooden-soled shoes, and to rush to the courtyard where we were counted, until the order was given: Arbeitskommandoes formieren – get into working groups.
The strength to head out of the camp every day, in rows of five and marching in the same pace, with the Kapo ordering us: Muetzen ab – remove your hats – as SS soldiers counted us. Again.
How did I find the mental strength and will to survive another day, and then another day?
And where did I find the strength to present myself as a boxer, feeling this may turn out to be a positive decision? After all, this strength bordered on chutzpah, as I was no boxer. Here too was an expression of that will to make every effort, realize an objective that appeared to be impossible, and survive the horror.
I also found physical strength. At the boxing ring I used the little strength left in my body in order to face fellow inmates who were professional boxers. I did it all in order to receive the extra liter of soup served every evening by the camp commander, the man who initiated these fights for his own personal pleasure, a private show organized at the camp.
Sixty-seven years have passed, and I still don’t know where and how I found the strength.