When something bad happens, it is seldomly treated as a blessing at the time. And so, our story begins in the very nucleus of the worst period in the history of mankind. It was the year 1941 and a little boy from the East was on the move with his parents. A great power he did not know had laid claim to what they owned and resettled his family into another part of its reign. In a land they did not know and language they did not speak, they felt wary of a situation that could not end well.
At the end of 1944, the war was at its peak and the horrors of destruction came ever closer to the ones that were left helpless behind the front lines. Our little boy’s father was warned by a local friend that they should leave with haste, for it was no longer safe, as another great power was coming to lay claim to what is theirs. Taking only what they could carry, they raced towards the South, as their less fortunate kin were slaughtered by the thousands. This was not a time to rejoice and be thankful to the stars, this was about survival and our boy was just 9 years old.
As they raced across the ravaged ruins of a burning land, they fled with others, for there were tens of millions of people on the move. All of them displaced, dishevelled and trying to survive at a time when no quarter was given. The peace of 1945 may have finally brought about the silencing of the guns, but with a scorched earth and millions to feed, the fight was not over. Many more perished after the war, which is often forgotten. No longer welcome by their relatives in the land to which they had fled, they went further West in search of the only refuge they had left.
Finally, arriving in the land where they had come from, some 200 years before, they were forced to live in camps along with others, all of them refugees from places far away. As people were starving, our little boy did what he had to do. At the age of 15, and no shoes on his feet, he went to work at the mill, pouring liquid steel into giant furnaces in the seething heat. On his very back, like millions of others in his generation, he would now carry the heavy burden of rebuilding that which was so utterly destroyed.
By the end of the 1950’s, the land was doing much better as it started to benefit from the increasing capacity of its newly rebuilt infrastructure. The boy was no more, and the man had become a supervisor at the local manufacturing plant. His family was settled, and he had fallen in love with a kindred spirit. He took evening classes to earn a degree as he sought to advance his career in management, rather than on the shop floor. He rose up the ladder and travelled the world as he excelled in business and international trade, prospering beyond even his wildest dreams.
I don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how he found the strength to keep going where others could not, and moreover, preserve that dignity when others did not. “He is one of us”, is what I hear when speaking to people that knew him growing up. It is the biggest compliment they can give to a man, who was always a good friend.
On the 15th of September, our little boy turned 83. For someone who was given no chance of survival from the age of 10, he sure has done well. Please join me in wishing him all the very best, as we celebrate this most glorious of days. Alles Gute Papa!