The Season for Gifts is All The Seasons ….PART 1- Bernard’s Gift

Dec 03

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The season for gifts is really all the seasons . It just seems that at Christmas time in America , the art of gifts-giving and receiving – is a main part of the Holiday Season’s festivities . What we don’t realize is that gifts are given daily to all of us , they just may not be wrapped in bright paper , bows  and colorful ribbons .

It was in June 14 ,  1940 when the German war machine captured and occupied Paris . A young comis from the kitchen of Dominic’s on the left bank , Bernard Epstein , decided that this was not something he would stay to endure . Only 17 yrs. old and a Jew , he and a fellow Dominic’s brigade member decided they would trek overland to Spain and join the fight against the Fascist Franco . They planned to travel by night and stay hidden by day ; a distance of 800 miles or so….. to lands they had never seen . They were sure to be apprehended if they were not extremely cautious and watchful every step of the way .  Reaching the Pyrenees within the French Basque region known as “Iparralde “, they started the climb to enter the Spanish Basque region ; the worse that could happen occurred . Bernard’s comrade was not as fit as he was . They had to stop just short of entering Spain , so his friend could rest . They had to try and stay out of sight …. travel through the mountains were tough going . A lone German sentry with a guard dog captured them both . They were sent back to Paris and imprisoned . They were both were assigned to be  part of a group of 5000 that were herded and packed into boxcars for the long journey to Dachau in Southern Bavaria for internment .

He survived for almost 5 years ; until finally liberated by Russian Red Army forces of Stalin . He told the story of how it was early 1945 and he was determined to get back to Paris ,  so he could get back to work his way up the brigade at Dominic’s – they had promised his job would be there ! The hope and determination of mankind amazes me everyday, but especially when I heard this story in the last 60’S at Le Tonneau Restaurant in Marin County . Bernard said he survived by adapting and knowing he would do whatever it took . He said they would wake the work crews  up at 4 am , march them in the freezing darkness  , blinding rain and snow to the coal mines. There they would work underground ,sometimes standing knee deep in freezing ,  filthy water until 11 pm. Then the guards would march them 4 miles back , have a “meal ” of warm water and rotten cabbage , then to fall into their pitiful beds to sleep. Again at 4 am , it would start all over again .  MOST DID NOT SURVIVE THE ORDEAL .

How did Bernard survive this horrific time ? He made an arrangement with the camp doctor . He agreed to work all night…. the time he might sleep , cleaning the hospital spaces until they were spotless and shone ; all in exchange for a substantial meal of bread , cheese or maybe even some meat ! What would he do for sleep. Humans need to sleep !  He taught himself to sleep , standing upright ,  all the while  he wielded a shovel and pick ,  tearing the coal from it’s underground hiding place ! I was almost in tears that day when he shared his story with me . I’m still moved profoundly… even today when I think of what that man did to survive . If I ever feel a strong a need to give up; throw in the towel ….. or decide that going forward , with whatever obstacles or road blocks that appear to be in my way , it is clear that I have an example of the  dynamic measure of what a man can do  if he wants make the right choice to stay the course .

PART 2-Next Time….BERNARD’S GIFT and the joy it has given ; and allowed me to share with so many others . All from a man who’s life seemed destined to end on that remote mountain in Southern France 72 years ago , to one that touched countless lives with amazing resonance , happiness and joy.

Take a measure of RESOLVE until you see that you have  PERSEVERANCE in your palm . Now make a fist , then thrust it forward to where you can see DETERMINATION in your sights . Then you know that CONFIDENCE and HAPPINESS are surely within your reach. That is the MEASURE that you will want to mark with a pencil on the wall.

Ross Pullen 2012

 

2 comments

  1. What an honor and a priviledge it was to know him.

  2. Chantal /

    What an amazing story!

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