Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Farewell Adam

My friend Adam Cintz died yesterday at the age of 99. His life was full and his family was near. He survived two wives and was a success in business and in the community. He was a cheerful presence to all and until recent months continued to read voraciously and tinker in his workshop. All of us will miss him deeply and my heart goes out to the family as they cope with their loss. His sons and their families loved him dearly and will carry on his legacy of bringing good to our world.

The loss of a loved one at any age is hard. Whether their life was brief or long, and whether the end came gradually or abruptly, the grief is real and it takes time for all of us to cope with the change. We are confronted with our mortality. We encounter our own faith and fears and we hug our living family and friends a bit tighter. To all who have suffered loss recently, I offer my heartfelt sympathy and prayers.

What is distinctive about Adam is that he was a Polish (and naturalized US citizen) Holocaust survivor with an amazing story of courage and survival. At some time in the future the family will publish the rich details of his life; for now, some highlights that were part of his public talks will serve to inspire our journey on this planet.

Adam's life included losing his father during World War I when he was six years old, living in abject poverty in Warsaw and Lodz, and supporting a family during the rapacious reign of the Nazis. He survived the horrors of Auschwitz and other camps and was miraculously reunited with his wife after the war. They settled in Palo Alto and San Jose and made a life for their family from 1949 to the present.

Adam was on the last train to leave the Lodz Ghetto. Summer and fall 1944 were the final months of the Final Solution and hundreds of thousands perished in the evil convulsions of the Nazi nihilism. He managed to protect his family from "deportation to the East" for five years, only to lose his eight-year-old son to the flames of Auschwitz upon arrival.

Over the years, Adam has shared his story, supported Holocaust groups and various causes. In recent years he took more time to make sure the younger generation heard the facts about his life and the six million who did not survive. Adam was a hard worker and his life was not a simplistic story. His last 60 years have been filled with laughter and tears, happiness and hurts, cherished memories and personal pain, just like most narratives of caring and thoughtful people.

Adam was neither an atheist nor particularly religious, but he was deeply connected to his Jewish identity and lived a life of hope and goodness, believing that people could make better choices in the future. He was loved by people of all faiths or none and he passionately promoted love and toleration. He disliked fanaticism of any kind and loved seeing all people do well. He loved America, flaws and all. He loved Israel, seeing it as a necessary land for his fellow-Jews, while always hoping for peace with Israel's neighbors.

With only three years of elementary schooling, Adam taught himself to read and speak English. He enjoyed learning and his home was filled with all kinds of books. He had a particular love for Holocaust and general Jewish history and testimonies.

I had the honor of spending many hours with Adam and I came away enriched by his courage, humor, insight and hope. He would greet everyone with, "My name is Adam, not the first one." He loved to tell stories, and he was a good listener and enjoyed laughing. When the tears came to his eyes as he recalled the Holocaust, he would wipe them away and resume the story - a man at peace who could still feel the losses of a century.

As I say farewell to my friend, I see qualities that I want to emulate:

First, cherish the past without being chained to it. Adam's sorrow was never far from his mind, yet he built a good life in the USA.

Second, live a life of love and treasure every day. Adam brought joy to everyone he met.

Third, keep history alive, especially defining moments. After Auschwitz, the world said, "never again." But Mao's massacres happened and Pol Pot's murders are not imaginary. Rwanda and Darfur are recent examples of our inhumanity. We must allow the past to inform our future as we humbly determine to do better.

Adam was a new friend in my life, but a soul who will stay with me. His life spanned a century of change and turmoil, progress and violence, explosive growth and unprecedented challenges. In the midst of it all, Adam loved his family and friends, shared his story and nurtured hope. I only hope I will do as well with the season I am given on earth. My love goes out to his family and the extended family of fellow-survivors who carry the burdens of history and the blessings of hope. Thank you for enriching our lives.

Farewell dear Adam. I will carry your smile and tears forward.