Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Could Have Used a Hug in 1945

György Balaesa, known to us as Dr. George Brent, has become our hero in the last seven days. Still sporting his Hungarian accent, Dr. Brent surprises us constantly with his wit and sarcasm. His quiet personality does not hold him back from speaking his mind about anything and everything--including the events he survived several decades ago.

Born to a Jewish family in 1929, he was fourteen in 1944 when he and his entire family were transported by cattle car to Auschwitz-Birkenau with thousands of other Hungarian Jews. Those who were still alive were pushed, shoved, and dragged off the cars and forced into lines. An SS (Schutzstaffel) soldier stood and made the selection: left or right. He and his father were sent one direction: to life; his mother and ten year-old brother were sent the other direction: to the "showers." They were stripped of their clothes, their heads were shaved, and their freedom was taken.

At Mauthausen yesterday, the wind chill made it feel like winter. We stood shivering as we looked around us at the place that brought the deaths of so many. The three Survivors and four Veterans were honored before we entered the confines of the camp. After the short wreath-laying ceremony, the students made a line to thank these seven men. As we hugged our hero, he whispered the words, "Where were you in 1945? I could have used a hug."

As we walked arm-in-arm with Dr. Brent through both Dachau and Mauthausen, he shared stories and information that can never be properly displayed through a history book. Dr. Brent lived through the Holocaust. He survived the brutal beatings, the cruel treatment, the hunger, and the extreme cold, and he has given us the incredible gift of sharing his stories.

He arrived at Mauthausen by cattle car in January 1945, was forced to make the walk up the hill to the fortress, strip down, shower, and stand naked in the bitter cold and wind while the SS arranged the rags he would wear for the next miserable months of his life. As he told us this story, we could not fathom bearing this wind and cold in January 1945, with no clothes, no food, no strength, as he watched the last threads of hope slip away.

Dr. Brent not only survived these horrors; he thrived. He came to America in 1949, saw the Statue of Liberty, and began to learn a new language and start over in life. Because of experience in a displaced person camp in Europe following World War II, Dr. Brent served as a dental assistant during the Korean War, attaining the rank of Airman First Class. Following his service, he was given the opportunity of attending dental school at University of Illinois. He practiced dentistry until 2011, when he retired at the age of 81. He raised four beautiful daughters and has eight lovely grandchildren, of whom he shared pictures with us.

Dr. Brent has changed us. Through his openness, we have learned a new depth to the value of human life and the will to survive against all odds. He, along with the other six men, have appointed us with the terrific duty and honor of sharing their stories with the generations to come. It is a heavy weight to bear, but it is an incredible blessing to carry these stories on.

Michael Dickinson, junior
Sabrina Elliot, junior
Emma Martin, senior


1 comment:

  1. "As we hugged our hero, he whispered the words, 'Where were you in 1945? I could have used a hug.'"...Priceless comment. In the midst of my tears, as I was watching the video of the ceremony and all the hugging that was taking place, I wondered what these men were thinking. Now I know.