an honest man

by Elizabeth de Barros

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Diogenes made his point well when he walked through Athens at noon with a lantern looking for an honest man.

The wise know it takes more than broad daylight to discover a truthful soul. It takes something bigger, more powerful — strong enough to rip the curtains down. Although history is full of picture windows, it’s not her textbooks who tell the most truth, but her witnesses.

Alex Kurzem was once a young Jewish boy who had initially escaped capture from the Nazis by running away from home in the middle of the night but was later made their mascot. In a spot on 60 Minutes, he recounts the moment in 1941 when he stood on the edge of a hill that overlooked the freshly dug shallow pit where his mother, brother, and sister were taken to join countless other Jews for execution.

“If only I had not looked…”

Mr. Kurzem’s eyes brim with testimony as he traces back to his formative years. The extraordinary and torturous events he suffered might raise anyone’s doubts if  they could not have been verified. Even if they were not, why would this now elderly man bite his fist to keep from screaming while visiting his mother’s grave when his only intention was to lay a rose?

Alex Kurzem

Holocaust survivors are a country all their own. They tell the truth because the horror of the lie compels them to. The hush of the unthinkable is remembered with certain restraint; they understand what it is to have proper respect for evil. Their stories are often sparse, but no less riveting. Tone of voice tells all. I welcome their stories, not so much for the record of brutality, but for their honesty. It is a gift. More than remarkable, it’s a treasure out of darkness.

His severe losses, including early birth records, gained for him a way of seeing things differently. His attitude carries no taint of bitterness. All that remains is a visible childlike yet broken spirit. He recounts how each morning he wakes up and wishes himself a happy birthday. With a twinkle in his eye, he says, “One day I’ll strike it lucky.”

Alex Kurzem’s face is the map of honesty, proof of birth of a man come home.