His stature reminds me of a grandfather figure, his personality is a hybrid between Mr. Rogers and the male version of Betty White and he has more energy than most people do after their morning cup of coffee.
I had the opportunity to sit down with 88 year old Holocaust Survivor, Alter Wiener, at his home and ask him questions about life, Hitler and why one should use their voice to make a difference.
His book From a Name to Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography is #57 on Amazon.com out of 47 million books. It is a book I would recommend everyone read and learn more about his story, the history of the Holocaust and how he is changing lives around the world by sharing his message.
We sit down for our interview and he asks if I want anything to eat or drink. I politely decline but then my wife Chelsea asks if she can get up and get him any water before we start. With a smile on his face he replies “If you wanted to offer me something, you should have done it in 1945!”
We laugh and start the interview. Time gets swept away as I am mesmerized by his stories, his authenticy and ability to replay the tragedies of his three years being tortured in concentration camps. The interview lasted hours but four things stand out that are reminders for all of us going though tough times or who struggle sharing their message:
“Don’t be bitter-be better.”
After spending three years in concentration camps, getting his teeth knocked out, facing months of starvation, having his entire family murdered (only four survived out of 128 members of his family) and living conditions so horrible sewer rats had better living situations then them, he realized he could make two choices after he was free. He could be bitter his entire life or get better. He chose to get better and not blame every German for the atrocities of Hitler.
If there is anything making you bitter in life, get over it. Decide right now you have the choice to get better and live a life of love. Love creates so many opportunities for all.
“There are only two races in this world, good people and bad people.”
It was hard for Alter to comprehend why Hitler would do what he did to so many, millions in fact, especially innocent children. He told me it does not make sense to hate, to have prejudice against others who look different than you, who act different than you or who do things different than you. Only focus on two races, those who are good and those who are bad and this world will be a better place starting tomorrow.
How are you judging people based on their identities?
“Appreciate what you have.”
For months Alter would go without seeing a flower, a child or woman. He was starving, overworked and in horrible living conditions that are incomparable. As we sat in his quaint apartment, he talked about how everyday and every moment he appreciates these small things he has in life that we take for granted everyday like a refrigerator, pockets, and everyday freedoms.
Look around you, what you can be thankful for today that you have in your life others don’t? Identify ten things that you can give thanks for no matter how big or small.
“I am not telling my story for me, I am telling it for you.”
Alter does not share his story because he enjoys it. In fact, it is incredibly difficult for him to relive his story. It causes him pain, suffering and takes him back to the worst part of his life. However, he shares his story because he wants us to learn from it. He wants us to appreciate life, to learn from each other, to give back and do more good things for our neighbors. He wants to share his story so something like the Holocaust will never happen again.
What story do you have? What message is inside of you that would help others live a better life? Share your story, your message and let others know they are not alone and their is hope in the world. Your story matters!
After the interview we talk about his age, abilities and how busy he is. He gives us that similar smile and says, “I don’t have time to die, I am too busy!” He is a man I will always remember and his story I will never forget. I am thankful I had the opportunity to meet Alter and I hope we all can continue to learn from his story, history and others who share similar stories.
Keep using your voice to make a difference and as always…
P.s. Share this article and let’s help Alter’s story stay alive and learn from his life lessons.