My Father's Legacy Revisited

Last week was the second anniversary of my father's passing.  I visited his gravesite in the foothills of Judah, together with my family, and we sat afterwards in a café to reminisce. To prepare for the day I had watched a taped interview with my father in which he talked about his experiences during the Holocaust. He was already 78 years old at the time of the interview, and his memory wasn't as fresh as it had been, but many events were fresh in his mind as if they had happened yesterday.
My father, together with thousands of other young and healthy Jews, had been "drafted" into a forced labor battalion in service of the Hungarian Army on the Russian Front. Of the 240 people in his "company", who set out by train from the Tisa River in the fall of 1942, only 8 were still alive two years later when they were brought to the Mauthausen concentration camp.
It would have been senseless to ask how he survived – yet as a child, not knowing better, I asked anyway. Of course he could never give me a straight answer. How could he?! How could he even know himself?! Yet in spite of this he would point out a few things.
"I never tried to flee. In Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus, there were huge forests, where you could hide, where you could find partisans – but I never fled, and people always ask me: Why? Why didn't you take the initiative and try to run away" he would say. He would explain that sometimes the people who ran away were never seen again, but sometimes they'd come across their corpses, having been shot by the Nazis, or perhaps anti-Semitic partisans, of which there was no shortage.
But it wasn't fear that caused him to stay his course and not try to run away to the forests.
My father always declared that he was an optimist, always trying to see the positive in every situation, person and event. He had come face to face with sheer evil and utter cruelty, but he also encountered acts and thoughts of kindness, even in the dark depths of the Holocaust years. He would say: "God bless those Russian peasants! They would share with you their last potato. I was freezing to death, leaning on an immensely high wall of snow on the side of a Russian road through a thick forest. I, like so many others, wanted just to rest a bit, close my eyes a bit. Others did – never to open their eyes again in this world; but those Russian villagers forced me away from that snowy, everlasting sleep, bringing me to their home, to a steaming hot bath they had prepared. As I was thawing myself out they washed my lice-infested clothes, and then they also fed me. I'll never forget their absolute kindness – a real kindness, asking nothing in return". In contrast he told of other places where the people were just as likely to kill a Jew rather than help one.
He had a unique reasoning as to why he chose never flee, never to stray from the path before him. He chose to just go on along the path set before him by circumstances, without trying to do something out of the ordinary. He said: "We couldn't know what the better choice was. So I decided to flow with whatever God would do with me and accept whatever would happen. You can criticize, but the fact is – here I am!"
After liberation and a spell in the hospital he declared that he would never return to Romania. It wasn't his home; it and all of Europe wasn't a Jew's home.
He ran into an officer from the Jewish Brigade who told him in Hebrew: "We need you!" So my father made his way to Innsbruck, Austria, near the Brenner Pass over the Alps into Italy. There he helped Jews cross to Italy, to get on boats that would bring them to the Holy Land.
He was again going with the flow of God's guidance, and this brought him to choose to be free, helping the Jewish nation go home and re-establish their sovereign homeland.