When a Holocaust survivor asks, “Do you understand?,” the answer “yes” feels stupid.
Almost as a verbal crutch, Max Glauben asks “Do you understand” to punctuate many of his thoughts, even when it comes to the Holocaust, of which he is a survivor.
Since Glauben was liberated from by the Allied forces near Dachau, Germany, in the spring of 1945 he has made it his life’s calling for people to understand.
Glauben, 94, who lives in Dallas, has published a 174-page memoir about his experiences, “The Upstander: How Surviving the Holocaust Sparked Max Glauben’s Mission to Dismantle Hate.” It was was written by USA Today sports writer Jori Epstein, a Texas graduate, who covers the Dallas Cowboys.
As the number of Holocaust survivors decrease through natural causes, there is an increased concern that the new generations are either forgetting or not learning one of the most consequential acts of terror in the history of modern society.
“I am concerned that people are very forgetful,” he said in a recent phone interview.
As of 2020, the Claims Conference estimated there were 400,000 Jews who survived the Nazis who were still alive. The death toll was 6 million.
This memoir is his attempt to ensure that his story is not forgotten. He has told it many times to youth organizations both in the U.S. and abroad.
Glauben was born in 1928 and raised in Warsaw, Poland. He was 12 when the German army invaded Poland, and forced Jewish people to locate into the infamous Warsaw ghetto.
Glauben, his mother, his father and his brother were eventually taken by train to Lager Budzy, one of the many work camps that littered Europe. Max figures all three were killed in May of 1943.
While Glauben attempted to stay with his father as an SS guard tried to separate him, his father told his son, “Control your temper, and you’ll survive.” He never saw his father again.
“When you go through a life like that, especially when you are very young, your brain gets washed. You become brainwashed,” he said in a phone interview. “Some of the horrible things became easier through the years. I’ve made 14 trips back to Poland and Israel after that. I’ve talked to up to 20,000 students from all over the world to show them what kind of tragedy the Holocaust was.”
Glauben was in a group of prisoners who were liberated in the spring of 1945. He was sent to Germany as an orphan, and then a part Jewish children’s service that sent those to the U.S.
He built his entire life here, which included serving in the Army from 1951 to 1956. He married his wife, Frieda, in 1953, and the couple eventually settled in Dallas. The couple have three children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Epstein met Glauben when he was 84, and the pair talked about doing this book in 2016.
Glauben is not kin, but for Epstein this book is personal. She is Jewish, and has traveled to Eastern Europe to visit some of the concentration camps that remain, including Auschwitz.
“I still don’t think I’ve made sense of (the Holocaust), but I am more willing to accept there are questions we just can’t have answered,” she said. “Max helped me with that. It’s OK that this doesn’t make sense.”
Rather than tell the story of a Holocaust survivor, both Glauben and Epstein wanted to convey a larger point than just that of person who lived through hell.
He wants people to “understand” something few can comprehend, but even if they can’t understand the all of the Holocaust they can learn the importance of unlearning. In this case, the root of the Holocaust: hate.
“Revenge. What is revenge?” he asked. “You take revenge by not becoming the person that did this crime. So you have to put those feelings aside and don’t forget about it. But you change your tactics and the way you live your life.
“Do you understand?”