There are very few people we come across who profoundly touch our lives -- parents, teachers, friends. Almost all have one aspect in common: They spend copious amounts of time with us.
Then there are the rarities, folks who move us deeply even after just a few meetings. These are people who don't require time to make their presence felt. These people leave their indelible mark simply by being who they are. We are lucky to come into contact with them.
One of these people died this week. His name was Jack Slomovic, and he passed away at age 86 in Los Angeles. I had the honor of helping him write his memoirs over the course of the last month. His loss represents not just a loss for his family or his community, it reminds us that as we lose our eldest generation, we seem to be losing something much deeper -- our sense of individualism, entrepreneurialism and fighting spirit. His life reminds us that we can rebuild all of those elements anew.
Slomovic's story is incredible. He was born in 1925, in a little town in Czechoslovakia called Solotfina. With the outbreak of World War II, the Hungarians took over the town, implementing anti-Jewish laws at the behest of the Nazis. In 1944, the Germans themselves occupied Solotfina and moved all of the Jews into a ghetto. From there, the Jews were shipped to Auschwitz.
Slomovic, along with his father, two uncles and his cousin, Elie Wiesel, was taken off the train and sent to Buna, a labor camp near Auschwitz. His mother and five of his siblings were separated from them and sent to the gas chambers.
Over the next year, Slomovic would be shuttled to several concentration camps, forced on death marches and all the time stealing bits of food to keep his family alive. When he was liberated at Theresienstadt, his father was deathly ill with typhus. Just days later, his father would die in his arms.
Destitute and homeless, Slomovic wandered the streets of Prague. Eventually, he found his way back to the Sudetenland, where he settled in the short term. Meanwhile, he sought an American visa.
By the time he got his visa, war had broken out in the nascent state of Israel. Instead of using his visa to travel to the United States, Slomovic volunteered to be taken to Israel to fight on behalf of the Jewish state. They took him off the boat, gave him two hours of training with a rifle and sent him to the front lines of Latrun, the bloodiest battle of the Independence War. There were 150 men that went into battle along with Slomovic. Fifteen came out in one piece.