Aaron Elster was 9 years old when a reluctant neighbor hid him in her attic and started slipping him food and water once a day.
When asked what he remembered about that 2 year isolation during the Holocaust, he said, ”Oh, there's so many things that I remember, the hunger, the fear, the absolute, total loneliness. What do you do all day? You're sitting there. I used to catch flies, outta desperation, and tear their wings off, so they wouldn't fly away, so I had them there.”
And when asked how he survived, he said, "I had the ability to daydream. I used to write novels in my head. I was the hero all the time. And we have that ability to either give in to our misery and our pain and die, or absorb the physical pain and keep your mentality, keep your soul, keep your mind.”
This reminded me of a thread running through Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, also delivered from the depths of the Holocaust: sometimes the only thing we can control is our internal dialogue.
Which in turn reminded me of an observation by poet and novelist Ben Okri, especially poignant now, as we’re forced to huddle around digital campfires in pursuit of stories that entertain us, inform us, or advance our own preconceived narratives:
“Beware the stories you read or tell. Subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
Seventy-five years ago, Aaron Elster told himself made-up stories in which he was the hero. He eventually immigrated to America, served in the Korean War, had a family, and in his later years, told his real story to 'convince people to stop hating each other.'
Sounds like the same story to me.