Retired doctor, author, artist and Holocaust survivor on happiness, acceptance — and gratitude for his liberation
Of all the jokes I heard in 2012, two made my year. In each, an optimist and a pessimist comment on the world. In the first, an optimist says that this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist answers, “You’re right.” In the other, the pessimist opines that this is the worst of all possible worlds, and the optimist replies, “It could be worse.”
In 2012, my wife, Karen, and I marked our 11th anniversary. We are happier now than ever. I speak daily with my daughter, Alex, and we see each other at least four times a year. Here are some of the other highlights of my year:
In February, Karen and I took a cruise from Chile to Brazil. From the Pacific, we sailed around Tierra Del Fuego into the Atlantic Ocean and to the Falkland Islands, where we visited a large private preserve with a lot of penguins. One approached me, dressed in his tuxedo, and seemed to understand Hungarian. We talked man-to-penguin for a while.
In Rio De Janeiro, we stayed in Ipanema with its endless beaches, dotted with countless red sun umbrellas and gorgeous young people. I thought I might stand on corner as a tourist attraction — the rare sighting of an old man.
Last May, Austria’s educational minister invited me to speak in schools. The teenage students were mature, well-groomed, and studying three languages. At the end of my talk, many of them were crying.
Vienna is beautiful, with a lot of green parks and trees. The Kirchnerstrasse is lined with gorgeous shops. The streets are clean and full of elegant people. At my favorite restaurant, I ate crepes with raspberry syrup and my favorite Austrian and Hungarian delicatessens. On the street, I saw an old lady with crutches, waiting to cross. She smiled when I helped her, and I thought of those who helped me in 1945.
The Hungarian border was different from what I remembered — no guards, no checkpoints. On my first day, a friend took me to visit my father’s grave in Budapest and to the country grave of my nanny, Anna. In the evenings, I met with many good friends and had a great time, enjoying goose liver and Gypsy music.
In June, Karen and I took a two-week river cruise in France. Alex and her husband came with us for the first part, on the Seine. Although the weather was cold and rainy, we had a wonderful time. We spent my 87th birthday in Monet’s garden, surrounded by love and beauty. I assured Alex that my next 87 years will be harder.
Visiting Omaha Beach was very moving for me. On June 4, 1944, I was taken to a labor camp. On June 6, the American invasion took place. Eleven months later, on May 4, 1945, I was liberated. At the American Memorial Cemetery I placed a rose on the grave of an unknown soldier and cried for those who died on the day of the invasion. Those brave men allowed me to live more than 67 more years so far. They gave me a second life.
In September, I went to Huntsville, Ala., to meet with my liberators. I thanked them again for my life and will continue to thank them as long as I am able to meet with them, and as long as they are able to hear me.
The years pass like minutes. I am at peace with myself. I accept that everything is transitional, including me. I enjoy every moment, consider everything an unexpected gift, and stay busy.
Dr. Robert O. Fisch of Minneapolis is a retired pediatrician, author and artist. Born in Budapest, he survived a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. After the war, Fisch attended medical school and participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He immigrated in 1957 to the United States, where he became renowned for his work with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU). His most notable book, “Light from the Yellow Star,” is taught in classrooms around the world. Other titles include: “Metamorphosis to Freedom,” “Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor” and “Fisch Stories.” Now semi-retired, Fisch spends his time speaking to students about the importance of humanity. In 2011, Fisch conceived the exhibit “The Value of One Life” at the Minnesota History Center. This essay was adapted from his annual holiday newsletter.