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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Remembrance

Speaking of forgetting (Beyond Forgetting, the new anthology about Alzheimer's I blogged yesterday), I just learned something extraordinary about a friend of mine. I've always known Sara is extraordinary, that she lived through the Holocaust and yet is one of the most radiant and loving people I've ever been lucky enough to know. Something about her always makes me want to get a hug, even if we only quickly pass each other.

What I didn't know, until she shyly confessed it to me, is that this adorable octogenarian was a Jewish resistance fighter in Germany during World War II. She's one of the people they made that movie Defiance about. Sara wasn't one of the Bielski partisans, she was in a similar group of fighters operating in the same area. She spent two years hiding and fighting in the forests.

The movie's debut was an event here in the San Francisco area. The filmmakers invited partisans who were still alive, including Sara and her brother and sister, to the premiere. I can only imagine what that was like for them. On the movie website, one partisan eloquently expresses why they did what they did: "If I was going to get killed, I was going to get killed as a fighter, not because I was a Jew." Interviews from the Underground is a documentary that tells more of the story of Jewish partisan resistance.

Sara wasn't content just to be part of the larger resistance. A feisty teenager, she wanted to fight, and she begged the men to let her help come along when they dynamited a Nazi train. The expedition almost cost her her life, when a wet match refused to light. That kind of courage is not an everyday thing, but it's just like Sara.

Sara has never made a big deal about her heroism. I suppose real heroes never do. She never even talked about this part of her life, though I've known her many years. But when last week she gave me a couple of articles that have appeared about her recently in Bay Area magazines, I realized that she was only just catching up with being proud of what she's done. "Suddenly I'm a celebrity," she said, wondering how such a thing could happen in her ninth decade of life. We probably all know heroes who don't admit it. Hopefully, this quality can rub off a little, even if they don't tell you their stories. I know I could use a little more of it.
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