Originally Posted on March 19, 2012 by Dr. Gail Feldman
Walter Rosley was seventeen years old when he was rescued from the Nazis. He’d spent two years in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and was on “The Lost Train,” one of the transport trains taking some 2500 prisoners of the camp to be killed at Auschwitz. But Auschwitz had been liberated, so the train meandered around eastern Germany and couldn’t be found for five days. On April 15, 1945 he was set free. His parents and brother survived also- those of only four families to survive the camp. 100,000 people died there, and when the British 11th Armoured Division arrived, they found 60,000 emaciated, ill people and 13,000 corpses laying on the ground, unburied.
I know this story because my friend, Joanie Griffin, shared it at a Landmark Education Seminar she was leading. Walter Rosley is her father. The topic under discussion was creating power over one’s past. Joanie said her family’s experience of the holocaust was not spoken of when she was growing up. She spent fourteen years inviting, requesting, appealing, and campaigning for her father to take the Landmark Forum, where he would have an opportunity to come to terms with his traumatic experiences. He refused until 1995. In March of that year he completed the three-day Landmark training. In April, he went to Germany for the 50th Year reunion of survivors. He found the children of his guards and forgave them. He also became a board member of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. As a boy, he had been a school- mate of Ann Frank. Joanie says that her father’s act of forgiveness allowed her family to finally feel and learn more about this dark time, and it transformed her father’s grief into the energy of compassionate connection and service.
In Aramaic, “to forgive” means to “untie a knot.” When Nelson Mandela was asked how he could forgive the guards who kept him imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years, he responded that he knew if he did not, he would remain tied to them for the rest of his life. He released his bonds through forgiveness. And through forgiving, Walter Rosley freed himself from the past and engaged powerfully with the present. In addition to spiritual and emotional freedom, the Stanford Forgiveness Projects show that acts of forgiveness strengthen the heart and the immune system, reduce depression and anger, and increase optimism, overall well-being and vitality.