I recently had a very moving and humbling experience. While visiting the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, I was able to make the acquaintance of Bill Harvey, a survivor of the Nazi death camps of the Holocaust. Bill is a regular speaker at the museum, and after hearing him tell his incredible story to a hushed crowd in the center’s auditorium, I waited in line to shake his hand and thank him personally. I had written and recorded a song featured on my first solo album (“In The House of Stone & Light”) entitled, “The Door”, which took its theme from the true story of the prisoners’ revolt of August 2, 1943, in the Polish concentration camp of Treblinka. So, meeting Bill Harvey and hearing his story was extremely special for me.
Bill was just a teenager from Hungary when he was separated from his close family and sent to the first of three death camps that he was to endure. He witnessed and suffered unimaginable and horrific atrocities which, to this day, still haunt him. At one point during his ordeal, he weighed barely 70 pounds, and was only saved from the camp ovens when a Jewish guard noticed that his unconscious body was moving in a stack of corpses waiting to be burned. Miraculously, the German guards had fled into the surrounding countryside that day, in fear of the imminent allied forces’ liberation, allowing Bill to be pulled free and saved by the guard. Whilst recovering in the camp barracks, Bill awoke in his bunk to see a hellish vision that he can never forget. A group of newly arrived prisoners were standing and staring at him. They had just been delivered to the camp from a packed railroad box car that had been traveling non-stop for many days and nights. Bill thought that he was dreaming, as they literally looked like skeletons, with gaping holes torn into their emaciated bodies. He would later learn that these prisoners had become so desperately hungry during their prolonged rail journey, that they had begun to eat parts of their own bodies. Recalling this memory, Bill’s eyes welled up with tears; Yet, through all of his trials, Bill told me that he never lost the unflinching belief that he would one day see his family and loved ones again – and that this was the single hope that kept him fighting on and believing that he would survive.
After he was finally liberated, he was re-united with some of his family who, mercifully, had also survived. After regaining his health, he studied hard, learned English and eventually immigrated to America, where he pursued a very successful career as a make-up artist, working with Hollywood movie stars. It is well documented that Bill was deeply revered, respected and loved by his many glamorous clients.
A few weeks after meeting Bill, he invited me and my manager Diane, to his charming home to view his family photos and to get to know him a little better. The one experience I shall always cherish is sitting with him in his living room, listening to my song, “The Door”, playing on his home music system. The realization that I was listening to my composition with a Holocaust survivor was profound and deeply moving to me. After hearing “The Door”, Bill complimented me on my singing voice and commented how beautiful he found the piece. He said that the lyrics rang true for him, and that he was genuinely touched by the song’s sentiment and emotion. This was easily the best and most rewarding review I have ever received!
During our time together, I recall that – more often than not – Bill wore a beaming smile on his face. I was greatly impressed by his humor and optimism. His attitude made me reflect on how easy it is for me to become “unmindful” of the freedoms that I enjoy, and how easy it is for me to take for granted my good health. Bill spoke passionately about the need to recognize and appreciate the simple pleasures and small gifts of everyday life. Today, Bill still passes on his message of compassion and tolerance by speaking at the museum, schools and business organizations with a spirit and dignity rarely seen. I am, without doubt, a very fortunate and better man for meeting Bill Harvey.
“Nothing gives rest but the sincere search for truth.”
– Blaise Pascal
Thanks for dropping by.