It was 1994 and along with my Polish born high school friend and another friend, I was in negotiations to buy a bankrupt hundred-year-old glass factory in Poland. It was our fourth trip to the small town of Trybunalski, about 50 miles outside of Lodz, 175 miles from Warsaw. We were having breakfast at the only hotel and preparing to drive to the factory when a man and woman approached.
The couple said they were from Australia and were drawn to us by the sound of English being spoken. The man was born just a few miles from the hotel. He had returned to Poland to find some record of his past. He went on to tell us that he was a Jew and that his family and neighbors had been killed in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
The man said that the house he had lived in had been burnt, his school razed, his synagogue destroyed. All government documents concerning Jewish citizens had been lost. He could find no record that he had ever existed. His last stop was to be at the Hortensja glass factory where he had been conscripted as a child to serve as slave labor during the war.
We were stunned; we were in negotiation to buy Hortensja. We called the plant manager and asked him to arrange a tour for the couple and, if he could, help find some record of the man at the factory.
When we arrived at the plant we walked through the factory with the couple. “Here is where we slept near the oven, here is where we polished the glass,” he told us, trembling.The equipment, the layout of the factory and the process were, 50 years later, virtually unchanged he said.
As the couple was saying their goodbyes, the plant Director brought out a large, leather bound ledger. He said the book was inscribed with the names of all of the people who had ever worked at Hortensja. It was there, on the pages corresponding to the year he remembered, that the man found his name scrawled on the page. He wept. There it was: His verification, the proof of his existence, his name posted in a column with Juden marked next to it in red. His brother’s name was listed there too and some others he remembered.
Later at the hotel, he thanked us. He told us that not only had we helped him find a record of his existence, but we had given him something he had never expected -- a taste of sweetness in the terrible bitterness of his homeland.
I cannot tell this story without crying.
Micki Esken-Meland - San Francisco More survivors' stories about Hortensja: MIKE'S STORY: A Crew of Angels
In October of 1992, my son Michael (24) nearly drowned while crewing on a 44-foot racing catamaran. In a high wind he was knocked unconscious by a fall from the top hull, went into the water and drifted away. He was found five minutes (or so) later, supported by an accidental air bubble in his foul-weather gear.
Many things conspired to save him . . . the heads-up reaction of a Portuguese scup fisherman with a fast boat who sped Mike to the dock . . . the New Bedford harbormaster who positioned the ambulance at the dock for a faster exit (instead of at the club entrance, as was normal) . . . the decision to airlift him to Mass General, the best place on earth if you have a severe head wound . . . and the skill of all the ER doctors and nurses who got him through that horrible first night.
Without these critically important events, we would surely have lost him. Later as the fog of grief cleared, I thought that there was far more going on during those decisive first hours than "good luck." I came to believe firmly that Michael was actually being watched over by powers greater than we could imagine, that his guardian angel was on duty and that, if things got really bad, this angel had even higher recourse.
Michael was in a coma for eight days. From barely perceptible changes in eye and hand movements, we could see that he was "improving" daily. Still, no one was sure when -- or even if -- he would come back to us. He was surrounded by friends who spoke to him a lot. We all agreed that hearing his beloved blues music could help him back into the world, but his boom box was broken. A tape had been hopelessly wound around the playback mechanism, something no normal human being could repair.
So I did the only thing a dad could do: I called the nearest Radio Shack. I told the young man who answered that my son was at Mass General (I didn't tell him how badly Mike had been injured) and that his boom box needed repair. I asked if he had any ideas how to fix it. The young man immediately said, "Sure." He told me to stay put; he'd be over in about ten minutes. It took him another ten minutes to fix the problem, and Mike was back in blues. I will always be grateful to the sensitive and generous heart of this 20-something Radio Shack angel. His love helped nurse my son back to this world. Even though I never even asked his name, we are forever connected.
Stu - Brooklyn, NY
P. S. Mike is fine today. He and Amy had a child last August. We all are blessed.