Max Glauben

Editor’s Note: Holocaust survivor Max Glauben of Dallas will speak at 8:15 p.m. Friday night at Texas Hillel, 2105 Nueces. 

Friday, if you choose, you will have the privilege to hear from Max Glauben. It is a privilege that your children will not have. And it is an experience for which appreciation only grows as time passes.

I first met Max Glauben in 2009, during my senior year of high school, when I traveled on the March of the Living, a two-week trip to Poland and Israel during which students from all over the world study the history of the Holocaust and examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate. Many of the student groups that go on the trip are accompanied by Holocaust survivors. My group was lucky enough to travel with Max.

Max was born in Poland, and survived unfathomable, twisted horrors in the Holocaust. On Friday, he will give you a glimpse of what he endured.

Every year, Max travels with a group of students back to the place of his nightmares. He guides them through the concentration camps, and comforts them when they break down, seeing first-hand just how low humanity can sink. He remains positive and stays strong when revisiting the places where the Nazis brutally murdered millions of his people. As we journeyed through Poland, Max calmed us, educated us and inspired us. He was our rock.

The trip affected everyone differently, but it unquestionably affected everyone significantly. For me, walking through Poland rendered me emotionally numb. The journal I purchased for the trip kept its crisp edges; I found myself unable to write, despite an unbearable desire to pour everything onto the pages. 

The last camp that we visited was Majdanek. The adjectives expansive, massive and vast do not do it justice, nor do they explain the magnitude of confusion, disgust and utter disbelief that overwhelmed me when I tried to take in this killing factory less than a mile from the major city of Lublin. I stood by Max’s side as we walked through.

Max told us stories that shook us to the core. We saw meticulous records kept by the Nazis, intended for a museum of the “extinct Jewish race” when the war was over. We walked through a barrack filled only with victims’ shoes, touching soles of souls who did not make it out of the camp alive.

After a while, we found ourselves at the entrance to the crematorium. There, the remains of the victims who were gassed were brought in by wheelbarrow and shoved into ovens so that they could be burned. There, the Nazis murdered Max’s entire family. And, there, I broke down and cried.

The first tear fell down my face just moments after seeing Max’s own tears. This was not the first time Max’s cheery demeanor had been clouded by resurfacing memories, but this time was different. Tears racing down his face, but voice sturdy and purposeful, Max began saying kaddish, a Jewish prayer, for his loved ones. He was saying kaddish for his father, for his mother, for his brother. Max was saying kaddish for his family members whose bodies were burned at that very spot. Max was the only one from his family who survived the Holocaust.

I could not stop crying. None of us could, because trying to maintain control when you’re faced with something so heart-rending simply is not possible.

But what I learned from Max is that it is possible to move on.

Max, who lived through horrors that I am still unable to comprehend, is the most positive person I know. His attitude puts everything into perspective — how can I complain about that surplus homework when I have the privilege of a college education? How can I whine about obligatory family events when I have my family to share these milestones with? Max has taught me to appreciate everything, and he continues to teach me to live life. When I first called him about coming here, I was met with a voicemail. Max called me back at 10:30 that Sunday night with an apology. “Sorry for just getting back to you, but I’ve been in Michigan all weekend visiting my granddaughter who goes there. I would love to come to UT.” I have friends my age who don’t want me calling that late, but Max doesn’t miss opportunities. He’s a young 86 who is constantly on the go and does not accept limitations. 

Max has taught me more things than can fit in a single article, but the one that resonates the most is his motto, “Be an upstander, not a bystander.”

An upstander — someone who, when witnessing injustice, does everything in their power to right the wrong. An upstander is someone who feels responsible for the rest of humanity, and strives to solve society’s biggest problems. As Longhorns, upstanders are exactly what we strive to be.

I encourage you to come to Texas Hillel Friday at 8:15 to hear Max speak. Twenty-three current Longhorns have had the privilege to travel with him, and dozens more have had the privilege of hearing him speak in the past. All of us will be there to learn from him again then. I invite you to join us and I guarantee that you will not regret it.