By Tazanyia L. Mouton/ USAG Natick Public AffairsMay 12, 2016
NATICK, Mass. (May 12, 2016) -- Holocaust survivor, Dr. Ludwik Szymanski, shared his experiences with the workforce of the Natick Soldier Systems Center, May 3.
It is estimated that 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust, with six million of those killed being Jewish.
Szymanski said it was necessary for him to join the Natick workforce to commemorate the Holocaust.
"Educating Soldiers, particularly about this story, is the most important thing because the most important weapon is the Soldier," said Szymanski. "That's why I am so happy you have this program."
Szymanski grew up Wloclawek, a middle-sized, provincial town in Poland. Even during the Great Depression, Szymanski said his family lived happily.
When World War II began in 1939, Szymanski said his childhood, "effectively ended," as Poland was quickly defeated by the Nazis.
"We were lucky in that our nuclear family survived," said Szymanski, "but tens, if not hundreds, of our extended family perished."
Growing up after the Holocaust, Szymanski said, was especially tough for him.
"Out of 17,000 Jews in a town of about 70,000 people, there were about 100 survivors, but most of them left before I left my town," he said. "I was the only Jewish teenager in that town and (in) the school, and bullying the surviving Jew was the thing of the day."
Szymanski also mentioned that in order to live in his town of Warsaw, he had to adapt to some rather unconventional ways.
"There were several factors that decided whether you would survive hiding or not hiding," said Szymanski. "It was not so much hiding physically, but rather, living hidden in plain sight."
Szymanski said that he got accustomed to living minute-by-minute and had the constant fear of someone approaching him to ask for proper documentation, which happened on a number of occasions.
"Obviously we were scared," he said, "but you had to hide it because people on the street would recognize that you were scared and they would look at you and they would approach you."
After the war, Szymanski said he never denied what happened to him, but he made sure that he didn't dwell on his experiences, either.
"You do not forget, you do not deny, but what you do is refuse to spend your life in survivor mode," he said.
After the war ended, Szymanski graduated from high school and was accepted on a conditional basis to a university, but since his father was not a Communist, the family decided to immigrate to Israel.
Szymanski was accepted to the Hebrew University Medical School in Jerusalem, even though he didn't even know the Hebrew alphabet.
Determined, he worked in the fields half the day and studied Hebrew late into the night.
In 1959, he received his medical degree and served two years as a regimental physician in a tank regiment with the Israeli Defense Force.
Szymanski arrived in the United States in 1962 and became a resident in pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, followed by a residency in psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital.
After completing training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Boston Children's Hospital, he joined the Developmental Evaluation Center where he developed and directed the clinical and training program in Psychiatry of Developmental Disabilities.
When asked what his advice would be to the younger generation of Soldiers, Szymanski had this to say:
"First, you must believe that hate does not solve anything; hate only promotes more hate and violence," he said. "Second, no matter what, teach others."
Szymanski is currently an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of Psychiatry Emeritus at the Institute for Community Inclusion, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disability based at Boston Children's Hospital.