I’m Charles Adler with Eight minutes that matter. Some days ago I was writing a Winnipeg Free Press column, to be published on Remembrance Day Weekend. Remembrance Day known in some countries as Armistice Day, known in the USA as Veterans Day. I view my columns the same way that I view these essays which are podcasts. This is a personal letter to my audience. So whether it’s Manitobans, who make up the bulk of the Free Press readership or Canadians and Americans who make up most of the people listening to this, it’s always a personal message to you. If I fail to come across as writing or speaking to you one face to face, heart to heart, what’s the point of touching the keyboard? And so when I was thinking of the veterans I was thinking of a dream that’s been recurring in my life ever since I can remember being alive and feeling guilt about members of my family whose lives were extinguished by the barbarism of those I am instructed to think of by people I do respect, they instruct me to accord ever murderous monsters human being status. In the dream, I am a much younger man, in a military cemetery in France. There is a shovel in my hand with freshly dug burial ground dirt. As the eyes of my sleeping mind focus on the behaviour in this dream that never leaves, it’s crystal clear this is a nightmare. I am digging my own grave. I am bailing out of a life I should be grateful for, given to me my two wonderful people called Mum and Dad, who could never have met in 1951 had it not been for the heroes buried in the cemetery of my personal nightmare. My buried heroes sacrificed themselves in World War II, a war against Fascism, a war where people of my heritage were targeted, where my parents were marked for death, forced to wear the Yellow Star and most likely bound for a cattle car journey to a place called Auschwitz. In 1944, over 434,000 Jews were deported on 147 trains, most of them on the 500-kilometer journey to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, 4 out of 5 were gassed. Before they were exterminated with a powerful insecticide, their living eyes met three words at the gates of Hell. Three words constituted one of Hitler’s bushel of big lies. Three German words Arbeit Macht Frei -translated into four English words. Work Sets you Free-unless of course you’re too old or too young or too disabled to work. In that case, you’re hours away from being forced to inhale the pellets of Xyklon B Gas. Within moments your brain is as dead as a cold shovel, and within hours your incinerated body, now in ashes finds a chimney. Ashes to ashes. The journey from Yellow Star to Chimney is one short journey that my so-called sleep has seen thousands of times. In my life, I’m never fully asleep and therefore never fully awake because those scenes I just described happened in real life to many members of my extended family, who were rounded up by the forces of Totalitarian darkness in 1944 – never to be seen again. Some were shot. Most were gassed. All had a strong work ethic but no amount of work could set them free. Nothing in their character could make those three words on the gates of Auschwitz ring true. And so by now you know that the younger version of this exhausted writer is me in a cemetery in Northern France digging my grave, while remembering the heroes who fought for Canada and the UK and the USA and other countries to defeat Hitler and so my father and mother who were in the devil’s waiting room, in end were spared the gas pellets and because of my heroes, my parents stayed alive and ten years later, gave me life. So here’s to the veteran in your family or that of your best friend. Here’s to the person whose heroic service helped many millions of families around the world including my own. How do I thank a veteran, alive or dead? By Remembering. In my life, every day is Remembrance Day. It does not matter to me which day you choose to listen to this message. But if it brings meaning to your life, I only ask that you pass it on to someone who might benefit from knowing the veteran in their family and has the gratitude of many millions whom they don’t know and one person who they now do know. The young man with the shovel is now a seasoned citizen of Canada with a keyboard, a microphone and a 7-word message. Thank you for the oxygen of life.
Charles Adler is a Hungarian-Canadian writer/broadcaster and political commentator, most noted as a former host of the newsmagazine series Global Sunday and as host of the syndicated radio talk show Charles Adler Tonight on the Global News radio network from 2016 until 2021