Living as a Leader

Three Life Lessons from a Holocaust Survivor

2015-05-09 13.30.43I’ve attended a number of college graduation ceremonies, including two of my own. And at every ceremony there’s always been a commencement speech. Yet, until I attended our daughter Christina’s recent graduation from Butler University, I’ve never heard a truly memorable one.

This commencement speech was given by Eva Mozes Kor. She is a survivor of the Holocaust. Every person in Hinkle Fieldhouse was riveted Eva told the story of her experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Because she and her sister were twins, when her family arrived at the camp via train aboard a cattle car, they were immediately separated from their parents and other siblings. Eva and her sister never saw the rest of their family again. They didn’t go to the gas chambers because the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele chose instead to use them as human guinea pigs in his inhuman and evil genetic experiments.

After briefly sharing her story, Eva went on to share with the graduates three important “life lessons” she learned from her life during and after Auschwitz. By this point she had us all ready to not only hear what she learned but, in doing so, find her secret to dealing with the pain, hurts and disappointments everyone in that field house has experienced.

Here are her three simple but powerful life lessons.

  1. Never give up on yourself or your dreams. Never lose hope no matter how desperate the situation may seem. (I might add, never give up on God and the hope you have in Him)
  2. Give your kids, parents and other loved ones a hug every day. Never take for granted that you’ll see them again.
  3. Forgive those who have hurt you. When you forgive you’re no longer a prisoner or a victim.

Unfortunately as Eva’s learned, this last lesson comes at a high cost in return for the high reward of freedom. She has received criticism in the media for her very personal and public forgiveness of Nazi guards at Auschwitz.

After the ceremony we talked about Eva’s message. Christina mentioned how her classmates graduating in her program all commented on how powerful and memorable Eva’s message was. Now to have the graduates really listening makes that speech a true winner and a great example of telling a compelling and personal story that does more than entertain but benefits those who listen to it.



  • Fleming John

    I’m sure Christina’s was much more intellectual, our speaker was Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo. All I remember is that he looked like I remembered him from TV, there were a few ping pong balls thrown around, and I enjoyed the message however, I can’t tell you a single thing about the subject.
    P have a great day. Thanks for sharing and Congratulations to Christina (You and Denise too)

    • Michael Perry

      Hey John,

      That’s great you even remember who spoke at yours. I can’t remember at all who it was let alone what they said. Now I’m not sure it’s fair to blame our speaker for that and I don’t have a bit of responsibility in it, but the fact is I don’t remember.

      Looking forward to seeing you and the family this summer.

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