A few months after my bar mitzvah, my father disappeared.
We didn’t know what had happened to him.
In our apartment in Budapest, there was a couch under the window and I would stand on it day after day looking into the street, watching, waiting for my father to appear.
In a way, I waited for almost 50 years.
In all that time, I never forgot him.
Even in my dreams.
As I slept, I would feel him bending over me.
And I would wake relieved that he was there ... and then confused that he wasn’t.
I had this dream on and off for almost 50 years.
It was only when my family found out what happened to him that the dreams stopped.
Once I knew what happened, I wanted to do something.
I wanted to honor his memory.
But mostly, I wanted to stand in the place where he perished to see if I could feel him.
So here I am, with all of you in Birkenau.
I know he was also here, under this same sky.
Just like almost half a million Hungarian Jews, he came to this place in a wagon, and almost immediately after arriving, disappeared as smoke into this sky
I was 13 when I lost my father and now I am 82 and, you know, I still miss him.
To the young people here today, I want to say that your mother and father always matter — even when you get to my age.
And honoring your parents matters very much while they are alive — and when they are no longer with us.
I still feel the loss of my father, but there is something I have gained.
You see, there were things about him that i did not know.
I knew he was a good man, a good father, a religious Jew who believed in God.
He worked as a travelling salesman and he was modest.
I never realized that he had strength — the spiritual strength — to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau.
No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin.
They could break his body but they could not break his spirit.
The tallit and tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with god and he was ready to die for them.
And he did.
He did so in front of others who knew what was in his little bag and who tried to stop him from protecting it.
In front of all his people, he fought for his faith with a spiritual courage I never knew he had.
You see, my father was an ordinary man.
But in extra-ordinary times, people do extra-ordinary things, if they have it in them in the first place — well, he certainly did.
Hugo’s legacy lives on in four generations. Besides me, three grandsons and a great-granddaughter represent them here today.
Also here today are two people who are important to my father’s story.
Allan Lowy, who you just saw on the film, is the son of Meyer Lowy who witnessed what happened to my father and told us about it.
Meyer Lowy was not a relative but grew close to my father on this journey and lived to tell the story.
And Dr. Roland Huser, from Germany, is also here with us.
We found the wagon at his museum and he gave it to us to restore and place it here in Birkenau.
Three years ago when the wagon was brought here, I had the privilege to place my own tallis and tefillin in the wagon, to replace those torn from my father’s hands.
For me, this helps to heal the brokenness of the past.
Some two centuries ago, Rabbi Nachman of Breslev taught, “If you believe the world can be broken, then know that it can also be fixed.”
Fixing means understanding what happened, healing the pain, and building a better future.
The Nazi’s wanted not only to destroy the physical presence of the Jewish people, but to wipe us out spiritually as well, and leave no trace.
But look at us here today.
Perhaps all those Hungarian Jews, including my father, who disappeared into this sky are looking down on us today.
They see how young, how strong, and how full of promise you are.
They see how the plan to break and crush us, has made us stronger.
Throughout history, others have tried to destroy us as a nation but none have succeeded.
We are an eternal nation, bound together by our faith.
Am yisroel chai!
Frank Lowy, co-founder of the Westfield group, delivered this speech at the March of the Living ceremony held April 8, 2013 in Auschwitz, Poland. The ceremony honored his father, Hugo Lowy, who was murdered in the concentration camp. The speech followed a six minute film entitled, “Spiritual Resistance” which tells the story of Hugo Lowy. The video begins at 1:11.