Jack Wohl was my friend.
Born in Germany in 1920, he attended school in Berlin until the rise of the nazis, whereupon the family moved to Hamburg and he attended Jewish School by day and sabatoged the German military, with the Macaabis, a Jewish Resistance Organization, by night.
One of the family photos that Jack managed to salvage from the desecrations and destruction wrought by the hun anti-Jews shows him as an incredibly beautiful young child of 5 or 6, smiling as his mother held him.
On the sidewalk, in the photo, was spray painted a large black swatztika.
As I viewed the photo, which I often did, when visiting with Jack at the rehab center where I worked as a Med Tech, and he was a patient, I couldn't help but
feel, viscerally, the agony that was about to be visited upon these noble and decent souls, of which they were so obviously unaware when the photo was taken.
Jack grew to young manhood with his equally dark and handsome brother, being affluent they dressed stylishly, they looked healthy and happy, but as the years passed, in the photos, I could see the change in their demeanor, from carefree youths, to fighters and survivors of a state turned killer.
Jack's family, in Berlin, prior to the Holocaust, were prominent in society and highly respected.
Jack's father was a surgeon, credited with developing, at the time, revolutionary techniques for saving his patients lives.
I would often sit at his father's desk while we talked, history emanating intensely from the finely crafted walnut roll top antique.
Jack became a wanted criminal due to his anti-Nazi exploits, but with the help of bribes, was finally able to escape, on a ship, from Germany.
"I watched my father from the ship as he got smaller and smaller in the distance.
I knew I would never see him again.
The German's murdered him.
They murdered everyone who stayed.
I didn't know this for years of course, and when I landed in New york and disembarked, I kissed the ground and said, 'Thank G-d for America.'"
Jack lived with his uncle Max Wohl on the lower eastside of New York.
"One time, after I first came to America, Uncle Max walked out of the bathroom, going to the bedroom, naked.
His wife and married daughter happened to be in the hall when he walked through, and his wife, Ilsa, caught him in the bedroom and said, " You pig! Aren't you ashamed of yourself, being naked in front of your daughter?'
and he said, "she's married allready, she's already seen it.' "
Eventually, Jack Wohl became the first licensed optometrist in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Jack didn't make a lot of money, however, as he spent most of his profits buying matierials to make glasses for the poor, and mainly, the local Navajo Indians.
Every night, for 50 years, Jack drove downtown and served meals, at the rescue mission, to the poor.
While Jack was with us at the rehab center, a Rabbi arrived, and Jack and I would go visit him and the other Jewish patients, most of whom were old and feeble.
I would say, "Jack let's go visiting, do a mitzvah."
And Jack would respond, in his charming way, offhandedly, "A mitzvah, yeah."
"one day, " Jack said, "I was at a restaruant with my wife, in Albuquerque, and a man came over to our table and said, Mr Wohl, I want to apologize for what the German's did to the Jews, I ask your forgiveness.
I told him I'd forgiven the Germans a long time ago.
He was the first, and only German, that ever did that."
"Jack, " I asked, "How could you forgive the Germans, after what they did?"
"Hate destroys you, Michael, you have to let it go." He said.
"You can't forget, but you can forgive."
Once I knocked on the door of Jack's room, "Come in", he said and in the gloom
he was watching tv, the history channel, it was a documentary about the Nazi crimes.
This was the only time he ever seemed distant.
"I was there." he said.
"I can tell when they are showing something as it happened, or not.
I was there.
I saw hitler.
My father operated on Goebbels. One night I was riding my bicycle and a group of brownshirts knocked me off the bike and beat me.
When my father was smuggling me out of Germany, storm troopers boarded our train
and took my father off.
He was gone for two hours.
When he came back his face was white.
I had never seen my father like this.
I noticed his gold watch was missing.
He'd bribed the stormtroopers to let us go."
Jack repayed the crimes of the holocaust by living a life of kindness and service to human beings.
To the least of mankind he offered his hand and his heart.
As I stood there watching Jack's sadness, his face reflected in the glow of the television replaying the crimes of the German nation, I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently, "Hey Jack, let's go visit the Rabbi, do a mitzvah."
He smiled, "Yeah, a mitzvah."
Jack had character and charm.
He spoke very little about the Holocaust, but I pieced together his role from talks with his wife, his daughter and other members of his family and circle of friends.
He'd long since retired when I met him, but he kept a pouch of tools, tiny little screwdivers and pliers, so he could do minor, on the spot repairs of people's spectacles.
The Navajos, who loved him, called him "our Jewish Chief", and he had the plaque on his wall attesting to this.
He empathized with their struggles and treatment at the hands of the Europeans who were populating the area of New Mexico that was the Navajos homeland.
Jack Wohl, of Blessed Memory, has passed away.
He will always be in my hearts core, in my heart of hearts, forever.
He was a mensch.