Because There Are Good People

February 1, 2017

From his obituary: Ernest Goldman was born on December 2, 1913 in Vienna, Austria. He grew up in a village in Moravia, near the border with Bohemia, two kingdoms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which became part of Czechoslovakia in 1918. When he was 15, his family moved to Vienna, where he lived for 10 years until emigrating to the U.S. in December, 1938. After the Nazis annexed Austria to the German Reich in March of that year, life became very difficult. As a Jew he was no longer able to pursue his studies in physics at the Institute of Technology (Technische Hochschule) in Vienna or his piano lessons, and he started to make plans for emigration. Fortune was with Ernest in several ways: First of all, because his mother knew that he would be a very large baby, she went to Vienna for the challenging delivery, so that she could give birth in a hospital under a doctor's care rather than at home with a midwife. Therefore, he was able to come to the US under the Austrian immigration quota, unlike his 3 siblings who were born in Czechoslovakia and whose best option was to flee to England and then to Australia. Secondly, in November of '38, he luckily escaped arrest by the Nazis when a sympathetic SA officer warned him, along with others standing in a line, to go home because it would be "getting hot" for Jews later that day, so he went into hiding. It was the early morning of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Vienna, when the persecution of the Jews increased dramatically and many young Jewish men were arrested and sent away to destinations unknown. Thirdly, he hid at the apartment of his fiancé  Marie. Her apartment building had 2 entrances, and that evening the Nazis only used the other entrance to round up the Jews in the building. Marie and Ernest were married 3 days later, as soon as they felt it was safe enough to go out on the street. They hoped that by marrying sooner than they originally planned, they could help each other to expedite emigration, since he had an affidavit of support from a relative in the US and she worked at the American Embassy, where she was able to help facilitate the necessary paperwork. They always had a special place in their heart for their two Gentile friends who took risks to be the witnesses for their wedding in front of a Nazi judge.

 

My father was one of those Gentile friends. As an Italian citizen living in Vienna he was exempt from many of the Nazi requirements, such as participation in the Nazi youth programs and military service. As a non-Austrian, it was less risky for him to sign public papers as a witness for a wedding of two Jewish people in 1938. And as a non-Jew, he fit the legal requirements to be a witness.

 

When I was a child, the Goldman family would swing through town every few years. I knew that Dad had been the best man at the wedding. I'd seen enough TV weddings to know that that wasn't a big deal. But Mr. Goldman always told me: "He was the best man at our wedding, and I can never thank him enough." Dad just said it was something you do for a friend. It took decades for me to understand the real implications of what Dad had done. 

 

In my childhood understanding, Dad's simple act didn't compare to what the newly-minted Mrs. Goldman had done for my family, which was to walk the family's paperwork through the U.S. Embassy to obtain exit visas. Dad just helped two people get married. Mrs. Goldman helped my family escape a world they feared.

 

As I continued to grow and learn about my family, and history in general, I realize that those early experiences with the Goldmans led to what has been a life-long quest to try to understand why people do the things they do. It’s a failed quest, but the observations have been interesting.

 

There are so many things that happen that lead us to focus on the negative. People hurt each other physically: in war, in terroristic acts, through bullying, through domestic violence. People hurt each through words: through bullying, through trolling, through insults. I see it happen, and I still don't understand how people can be so thoughtless.

 

TV news and newspaper stories focus on the negative, the bad things that happen. It makes it seem like the world is much worse that it really is. But news organizations report what is not normal. The fact that most of what we see on the news is negative tells us that the negative is not normal. That's why it's news. News people will tell you that good news doesn't sell (except for Reader's Digest).

 

But there are good people. There are lots of good people. I see incredible acts of kindness and generosity, and I still don't understand how people can be so thoughtful. But I see the gently flowing waves of goodness that they leave behind.

  • Because there are good people there was an SA office who warned Mr. Goldman of danger.

  • Because there are good people the Goldmans were able to get married.

  • Because there are good people, Mrs. Goldman was able to help my family leave a troubled country

  • Because there are good people, my father traveled across Vienna on Kristallnacht to retrieve a Jewish friend of the family and bring her to safety.

  • Because there are good people, my aunt, after leaving Vienna, found temporary refuge in London with a former teacher.

  • Because there are good people, that former teacher, Dorothy Burlingham, joined with Anna Freud to open a refuge in London for the many orphan children left by war.

  • Because there are good people, there are churches and individuals willing to open their doors and pocket-books and hearts to help current refugees resettle into new homes.

  • Because there are good people, there are people who travel to war-torn countries to offer education and medical aid.

  • Because there are good people, there are people willing to speak up and act when they see injustices.

  • Because there are good people to serve as an example, I am a better person.

  • Because there are good people....

…fill in your own examples of small acts which have had huge consequences

 

I still don’t fully understand the motivations people have for being good people: because God expects them too, because they believe in God, because it's the right thing to do, because...

 

I also don’t understand the motivations people have for not being good people. I'm not sure I want to know. I'm sure I don’t need to know. 

 

These people who do good, overwhelmingly live up to the word of God as expressed in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

 

Give thanks for the good people in your lives who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

 

- Ann Warner

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