By Nmasichi Chukwuemeka
On September 7th, 2017, Berea College hosted Richard Weiner, a childhood holocaust survivor, an international patent lawyer, Columbia and Princeton alumni, and a citizen of the world.
Weiner’s childhood ambition was to become a novelist; now an author who spends his time speaking widely on The Power of Forgiveness based on his experiences.
Born in 1927 in Wittenberg, a small city in Germany, where he had a peaceful childhood until 1933, when the Nazi’s seized power. “I lived for six years under the Nazi regime, and, as the only Jew in my school, was harassed by my Hitler Youth classmates on a daily basis” Weiner said. Weiner and his mother fled to his aunt’s house which resulted in an angry mob throwing rocks at their windows, chanting “your time has come.”
One of them yelled “We will get rid of you dirty Jews,” and at that moment Richard knew that their lives were in their tormentors’ hands. Weiner said, “I escaped to England with the famous Kindertransport and when the bombs began falling on London, I was evacuated with my school and lived for a year with an English foster family. In 1940, at the height of the Atlantic U-boat campaign, I sailed for New York with my parents.”
I am not trying to be a saint, but you just have to make a distinction. It is either you or them.”
Later in life, Weiner visited his hometown and reconciled with his former classmates and was honored for his work on forgiveness. Weiner’s book Survivor’s Odyssey: From Oppression to Reconciliation, details his experiences, purpose, and journey to forgiveness.
During his speech at the Berea college convocation, many students were impressed by his ability to forgive his transgressors and let go of the past.
Nicole Itumba ’20 said “I have a forgiving heart and I might have forgiven the Nazis if this was me, but I would not have forgotten.”
Andrew Mambondiumwe ’19 said “Forgiveness does not come easy especially in his circumstance where you were wronged in a way that left you scarred emotionally for life.
The speaker showed great character, wisdom and faith in his ability to forgive and reconcile with his oppressor. If I were him, I would forgive my oppressors, but it would take me a while to reach that point.”
“I was very fascinated by the speaker’s logic of forgiveness and that I agree that the world can be better through forgiveness. However, I think it is easier said than done. Although I will do my best to forgive someone who hurt me” Kateryna Nabukhotna ’19 said.
Maria Fernanda Pena ’20 said, “I believe the speaker’s ability to forgive his oppressors was a process. It did not come easy, and it certainly took a lot to achieve. I personally feel I would forgive my oppressors because we have to be the agents of change in the world.”
On his reason and courage to let go of the anger and hatred, Weiner said “My life has been a journey from victimhood to life affirmation. I realized it was about me letting go. Hatred eats you up. When asked about his strength and courage, Weiner said, “While I have never experienced “survivor guilt” I do attempt to conduct my life so as to be worthy of my survival.“