The Spirit of the Holocaust: The Story of a Survivor

The year is 1939, and the place is Poland. If you are familiar with historically significant dates, you will have realized that this year would be the start of the second World War. And for Robbie Weisman, his once peaceful Poland had become a very dangerous place; if you were a Jew that is. Unlike the storm of political unrest brewing around him, his home was warm with love and laughter; Consisting of his mother and father, three older brothers, one sister, and he the baby. Even though word spread of trouble brewing in Germany, his father kept an optimism that whatever was to come for the Jewish people wouldn’t be too severe, and it would be quickly resolved. At the age of 11, Robbie didn’t feel that his world was about to change at all, he wasn’t worried. After all, Germany had produced so many renowned artists, composers, and scientists; they were intelligent and cultured people, his own father had reasoned this with worried Jewish neighbors. Robbie’s father had an unwavering belief in humanity, and the good in people, that would unfortunately be tested in every extreme in the coming years. Robbie and his family were sent to concentration camps and given numbers instead of names, barracks instead of homes, but worst of all; separation from one another. Robbie and his father were taken to Buchenwald, a smaller camp when they arrived, that would become the largest concentration camp in the German Reich by the time the war was completed.

On Monday night, at Furman University in South Carolina, I had the honor of hearing Mr. Weisman, now 84, recount his experience at Buchenwald; a Nazi maintained concentration camp. As the rain fell outside, the room was in a trance like state as Mr. Weisman began to share the atrocities his eyes had seen. And while Mr. Weisman spoke about the dehumanization of the Jews in the camps, the 12 hour shifts in the ammunitions factory, and the constant death of those around him (By the end of the war, it was concluded that more than 56,000 Jews were killed at Buchenwald alone) , including his family, he spoke about something that I was embarrassed to never have considered.  What happened to these individuals after they had been liberated from their worst nightmare?

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, circa 1952 (post war). Photo credit: The Buchenwald Memorial Foundation 

On April 11, at the end of the war, Robbie saw what he described as “angels”. He said there had been talk among fellow Jews that the end was near, but it became reality on that day as American soldiers came through the gates at Buchenwald, as chaos broke loose with captives trying to reach their liberators. A soldier had asked Robbie his name and he, almost without thinking responded with his assigned number. A powerful example of the methodical dehumanization of the inmates of the camps.The Holocaust didn’t end when Robbie was free to walk out of Buchenwald and return home, because he no longer had a home to return to. After all, at this point, Robbie Weisman was only 14 years old, even though it was safe to say that his childhood had been stolen. In fact, Robbie and the other boys who survived were rare in the concentration camps, in Mr. Weisman’s words “they allowed you to live as long as you were useful. But when you had outlived your use, you were murdered.” The Nazi ideology wasn’t very favorable for the children of the Holocaust, who weren’t able to lift heavy objects or work at the pace of an adult. Luckily for Robbie, he was good with his hands and proved himself competent in the ammunitions factory. Much like the other children who survived, Robbie was now an orphan, even though he didn’t know it at the time, and all of his siblings murdered except for his sister. Robbie went from prisoner to refugee in a matter of moments. While thankful for his liberation, he felt lost with no place to call home, but the idea of reuniting with his remaining family pushed him to keep going. The Holocaust for the Jewish people was far from being over, Robbie was no longer welcomed in then Russian occupied Poland, and he and the small group of adolescent boys who had survived the camp were taken in by France for a time. There they received medical attention and shelter. But after the surviving boys had been evaluated by a psychiatrist, they had been labeled as sociopathic with no worth to society; for they had seen too much. Robbie began to question whether he really was still human after all. Feelings of Antisemitism were widespread, making immigration and citizenship extremely difficult to obtain. The Holocaust is known for its’ genocide of the Jewish people, but the dehumanization of an entire group was also a major theme of this tragedy which continued after the Nazi regime came to an end.

Roll call at Buchenwald, circa 1940. This would be during the time that Robbie Weisman would have been present. Photo credit: Buchenwald Memorial.
Roll call at Buchenwald, circa 1940. This would be during the time that Robbie Weisman would have been present. Photo credit: Buchenwald Memorial.

The spirit of a survivor is something that is so uniquely powerful. Hundreds came out on a cold and dismal November night to hear Mr. Weisman tell his story of how he survived one of the most horrific events in our history, with the odds stacked innumerably against him, and how he thrived thereafter. As he spoke with eloquence and great tact, the pain was visible to see in his eyes as he recounted the loss and heartache of his youth. But the most remarkable aspect of the night was Mr. Weisman’s unshakable hope and faith, that there is good in people, that humanity is not lost. He, who had endured so much evil at the hands of fellow-man, still believed in the hope that we might right the wrongs of the past by  taking action today.

I challenge you to enact good when you can, combat evils when you see them, and whatever you do, don’t be a bystander. As a Christian, I think of the parable of the good Samaritan. A man is robbed and brutally beaten, then left for dead on the side of the road. Several others pass him by, not wanting to get their hands dirty with his blood, or be sullied by the dust or the responsibility helping him would bring. But the Samaritan did not pass the man by, even though one a Jew and one a Gentile. This man, of different origin, bandaged the injured, placed him on his donkey and took him to an inn where he cared for him. He not only saved the man from death, but cared for the man so he may be well again. I thought of this as I considered my life and asked in what ways have I stamped out hatred and increased love and understanding, in what ways have a went beyond what I felt may be “necessary” to help someone, and surpassed my own instant gratification to actually meet their needs and not my own. My prayer is for our hearts to break for the widowed, orphaned, and destitute, for our hands to reach out to those who are broken, and for our lives to be of service to those in need.

As we all stood in roaring rounds of applause for Mr. Weisman, he smiled until the room became still.  With glistening eyes, he said he always liked to end with love. He asked that when we returned to our homes, whenever we would see our families, that we hug them and tell them that we love them. So I too, shall end, with love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)


From left to right: Amanda Taylor (My mother-in-law), Mr. Weisman, Michelle Taylor (Myself)

If you would like to learn more about Buchenwald, which has since been since turned into a memorial, I would encourage you to visit their website, which is a wealth of information.

A huge thank you to Mr. Weisman for traveling so far to enlighten so many, and inspire this article. Mr. Weisman has been a Canadian citizen for some time now, and spends his time educating people about the Holocaust and speaking on social justice. If you would like to reach him, you may email


14 thoughts on “The Spirit of the Holocaust: The Story of a Survivor

    1. That is exactly why Robbie said he went through the pain of retelling his story so many times. To give insight to his experience, spread awareness, and call social justice to action. Feel free to share this with your kiddos! I would be happy to send you some additional details of his story that I didn’t include in the article.


  1. I’ve had the opportunity to hear speakers who survived the camps as well, Michelle. Both times it was entirely moving. The programs each time were put on for judges to learn more of what went on and how to guard against it through judging with integrity for everyone, including the oppressed and less powerful.

    P.S. I tweeted a link to your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The entire room was completely captivated by this man. Such a moving experiences. That’s great that judges were able to be a part of something like that, to safeguard something like the Holocaust from ever happening again. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think even when people are knowledgeable about the Holocaust, they often do not consider what it must have been like for the survivors of the camps, and how difficult it must have been to acclimate to life back in the “normal” world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so very true! I believe that we study the tragedy and the number of deaths so often we tune out the stories of those who survived, and what new difficulties they may have faced. I know hearing his story definitely made me take another look at the Holocaust, as well as giving thanks for my family and life! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is so important that we never forget these atrocities – that each generation is reminded of the possibility for evil that lurks in each heart – so that we can each choose to do the right thing. Thank you for sharing your experience of meeting Mr. Weisman.

    Liked by 1 person

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