Sal­va­tore Tagliareni is a sto­ry­teller, writer, busi­ness con­sul­tant, art deal­er, and for­mer Catholic priest. He is the author of the nov­els Hitler’s Priest and The Cross or the Swasti­ka. He is blog­ging here today for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Now that you know what hap­pened you must be a wit­ness.” With these words Dr. Vik­tor Fran­kl, a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp sur­vivor and author of Man’s Search for Mean­ing, rad­i­cal­ly changed my life. The Holo­caust, which I had always regard­ed as a trag­ic his­tor­i­cal peri­od, trans­formed into a per­son­al real­i­ty through our many con­ver­sa­tions. Nev­er preach­ing or rant­i­ng with a right­eous vengeance of one who had lost so much, he often told me sto­ries as though they hap­pened yes­ter­day. The sto­ries were nev­er mere­ly abstract exam­ples, they were filled with names, places, and hordes of vivid details. The famil­iar columns of num­bers and ster­ile sta­tis­tics that we had all wit­nessed became peo­ple with names and faces and per­son­al life his­to­ries. These were sis­ters, moth­ers, fathers, friends, old, and young. No longer were they num­bers in a his­to­ry class, or news­reel moments that flashed on the screen and then fad­ed away. Once they became flesh and blood with names and places they were not eas­i­ly forgotten

The hor­ror of the Holo­caust became more intense with ref­er­ence points to my life. Although no one could ful­ly under­stand the Holo­caust, I began to see it in light of my own human expe­ri­ence. My life grow­ing up in a com­mu­ni­ty where diver­si­ty was not pun­ished, but rather seen as pos­i­tive was so dif­fer­ent from what the Jews expe­ri­enced. I had nev­er lived in a cli­mate where any sec­ond I could be arrest­ed and thrown into the back of a truck like a sack of pota­toes. These moments with Vik­tor at din­ner, dur­ing class, while walk­ing through the city with him, or speak­ing with oth­er Holo­caust vic­tims, opened the well­spring of insight that was pow­er­ful and com­pelling. There were no smooth edges and sim­ple answers. Ini­tial­ly it was almost impos­si­ble to believe that an inno­cent group of peo­ple could suf­fer mere­ly because of their race.

Through Vik­tor’s eyes and the expe­ri­ences of oth­er sur­vivors, I wit­nessed the sto­ries of the atroc­i­ties. I under­stood that it could have hap­pened to me and my loved ones. I imag­ined hold­ing the hands of my infant chil­dren, wait­ing to be slaugh­tered, or watch­ing my par­ents be herd­ed into a cat­tle car bound for the cre­ma­to­ria. These real­i­ties had a last­ing impact on my con­scious­ness and spir­it. They made the even­t’s tan­gi­ble and were bridges to those hor­ren­dous times. There were moments when the temp­ta­tion to retreat from the facts was almost over­whelm­ing. One vivid expe­ri­ence was when a sur­vivor recount­ed how his entire vil­lage was slaugh­tered in one day. He only sur­vived because he was in the for­est col­lect­ing firewood.

I was a Catholic priest at this time and nev­er a big fan of rigid dog­ma. I hat­ed the sem­i­nary and could nev­er fig­ure out why they thought I was a star. Vik­tor told me things in praise about myself that embar­rassed me at the time but now I real­ize he want­ed me to ded­i­cate my life to others.

It is amaz­ing how real his pres­ence is to this day. Out­side of my fam­i­ly no one has touched me in such pro­found ways.

As time went on I began to see the role that the Roman Church had in cre­at­ing a cli­mate of the oth­er” for the Jews through the cen­turies. I was stunned by this, but my rela­tion­ship with Vik­tor only helped to enhance my spir­i­tu­al growth. My love for Judaism as well as authen­tic Chris­tian­i­ty flour­ished under the guid­ance and friend­ship of this great man.

No one could ever under­stand or explain the evil that they expe­ri­enced, but I knew that there was an oblig­a­tion to lis­ten and absorb the pain. Time does not dimin­ish the acts of cru­el­ty that were the hall­marks of the Holo­caust. It is not the pas­sage of time that heals the wounds of these hor­rors. To con­tin­u­ous­ly hon­or the vic­tims and recount the sto­ries is not the maudlin search for vengeance. It is the oblig­a­tion to keep alive the mem­o­ry of those who suf­fered by per­son­al­iz­ing their lives. They were not mere­ly num­bers that can be aggre­gat­ed into a col­lec­tive tragedy. These were sin­gu­lar per­sons with the human needs and dri­ves that we all pos­sess. They were neigh­bors, friends mem­bers of their com­mu­ni­ties par­ents, chil­dren, and elders. Life was stripped away from them with­out cause.

We must keep alive the mem­o­ry of the Holo­caust and in my nov­els and pre­sen­ta­tions I remem­ber all those who died, and those who also at great risk stood up for the Jews. I also look toward build­ing bridges of love and respect between both faiths. It is time for the Roman Church to open­ly admit the part that anti-Judaism played in the Holo­caust. I believe this will enable Chris­tians and Jews to reach out to each oth­er and real­ize that their covenants do not negate each oth­er but rather bind them as chil­dren of a lov­ing God .As we move for­ward we must also remem­ber those who rel­ished and ful­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the hor­rors, and those who around the world, the major­i­ty of peo­ple, who stood in silence and washed their hands of cul­pa­bil­i­ty. This shame must nev­er occur again and we must stand for the rights of any and all who are oppressed everywhere.

Those who sur­vived and those that lib­er­at­ed the camps are almost all gone and the torch must be past to the next gen­er­a­tions. For this hor­ror nev­er to occur again it must be remem­bered more than one day a year.

We must nev­er forget.

For over 25 years Sal­va­tore Tagliareni has suc­cess­ful­ly engaged pri­vate and pub­lic com­pa­nies in their search for out­stand­ing per­for­mance. A gift­ed speak­er, he is blessed with a great sense of humor and can invig­o­rate an audi­ence with insights on life and lead­er­ship. Sal­va­tore was pro­found­ly influ­enced by his rela­tion­ship with Dr.Viktor Fran­kl, the cel­e­brat­ed psy­chi­a­trist and author of Man’s Search for Mean­ing. The desire to human­ize the mem­o­ry of those who per­ished in the Holo­caust was the dri­ving force behind the nov­els Hitler’s Priest and The Cross or the Swasti­ka. Read more about him here.

Relat­ed Content:

Sal­va­tore Tagliareni is a storyteller,writer busi­ness con­sul­tant art deal­er and for­mer catholic priest. For over twen­ty five years he has suc­cess­ful­ly engaged pri­vate and pub­lic com­pa­nies in their search for out­stand­ing per­for­mance. A gift­ed speak­er he is blessed with a great sense of humor and can invig­o­rate an audi­ence with his insights on life and He was pro­found­ly influ­enced by his rela­tion­ship with Dr.Viktor Fran­kl the author of Man’s Search for Mean­ing.