Two boys were playing in the Atlantic Ocean on a holiday weekend not far from their Florida home when they were caught in a rip tide. Bobby saw them and without hesitating swam to his fourteen-year-old and eleven-year-old sons. He got them on their boogie boards but could not overcome the pull of the current. Bobby Klein died while saving his boys.
This tragedy took place a little over ten years ago. Bobby and I were two of a group of friends who constantly played football, basketball, and baseball in the neighborhood. We also spent a lot of time at each others’ houses. Bobby’s dad William owned a grocery store in Chattanooga. He did not talk about it, but we all knew William Klein was a survivor of the Holocaust.
I was thinking of Bobby last week and found his dad’s recorded testimony in the archives of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D. C. Later in life, Mr. Klein decided he needed to share his story of growing up as a Jew in a small town in Czechoslovakia and the terrible persecution from Hitler’s evil regime. He visited schools and spoke on radio and television programs.
I had not heard Mr. Klein’s voice in over forty years until I listened to the ninety-one minute recording. Jews were forced to wear the yellow star of David in his town early in 1943. Then in 1944, William, his brother, a sister, both parents, and a brother-in-law were forced into a crowded cattle train for a three day foodless journey to Auschwitz. Separated upon arrival, Mr. Klein never saw his parents or sister again. After two months in Auschwitz, William, his brother, and brother-in-law volunteered to work in Warsaw, Poland. A few months after arriving in Warsaw, 11,800 prisoners were forcibly marched to Germany; only 800 survived. The three relatives were imprisoned in Dachau until the war ended in 1945.
Mr. Klein told his story in a matter-of-fact manner. He said Jews should remember, but not hate; hatred only destroys the one who hates. He recalled his childhood when Jews and non-Jews in his town looked out for one another. Minimalizing his own suffering, Mr. Klein often gave credit to God for allowing him to survive. Fifteen-hour work days, beatings, injuries, and inhumane living conditions were viewed as obstacles to overcome. He, his brother, and brother-in-law tried to help others as much as they could while witnessing cruelties beyond description.
Mr. Klein died at the age of eight-three, six months before his son died rescuing his grandsons. I think he would have praised Bobby for reacting as he was taught to live. Mr. Klein’s only boasting was about his family in Czechoslovakia and his family in America. His simple analysis: “We loved one another.”
I learn these lessons from my neighbors, the Kleins:
- Do not hesitate to rescue someone in danger, even at risk of losing your life
- Do not hate those who are consumed with hatred
- Do not seek pity, even though you have suffered greatly
- Encourage others through your own experiences
- Treasure your family; honor your parents; love your children
“My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within, my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed… Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait on Him.’” Lamentations 2:11, 3:22-24