This is a story from a man who kept saying, “I do not know how others will get anything from my story. My experiences were not from this world.”
And his early experiences should never have occurred in this world.
Still, they did.
I carry the story he shared, with such anguish and an unrelenting need to recall, when I interviewed him for Succeed on Your Own Terms, a book I co-authored several years ago.
And I am drawn to share it with you.
Because, like all important stories, we will each hear it in a different way….and it will have different meanings for each of us.
Samuel Pisar became an advisor to several presidents, starting with President Kennedy, who he met at Harvard.
I’m going to take you back to when he was 14 years old.
Samuel was walking in a long line and looking up at Dr. Josef Mengele – the angel of death. As Mengele inhaled on a cigarette, with a wave of his hand, he motioned for the prisoners to move to the left or the right. A random puff on his cigarette would break the rhythm and send each individual one way instead of the other…knowing that one of the lines would lead to the gas chamber.
Samuel had been in these lines several times.
This time, Mengele looked at Samuel, then motioned to the right.
“I knew it was all over,” Samuel said. “Except for a slight sensation of nausea in the pit of my stomach, I felt almost reconciled to my fate.”
Then, as he started walking through a long corridor with others who were condemned, Samuel saw a bucket hanging on the wall – and he was drawn to it.
Reaching up, he lifted the bucket, and saw it had a brush and some water inside.
So, he wet the brush, bent down, and began cleaning the floor.
On his knees, he scrubbed as hard as he could, going over one section thoroughly, then sliding down to the next.
As if it was his job.
As if his life depended upon it.
After, he doesn’t know how long, he moved his way back to the entrance.
Then he heard a click
And he looked up to see a Nazi soldier, pointing a gun at him, saying, “Over here, you pig. This part is still dirty.”
His pulse racing, Samuel moved over and cleaned that area again.
Keeping his head down, he kept scrubbing with all his might, until his arms hurt so much that he could not move them anymore.
That was when he finally looked up.
And the soldier was gone.
Taking a deep breath, Samuel put the brush in the bucket.
And he carried the bucket out into the open.
Into the light of day.
And he vanished into the crowd.
Samuel saw possibilities in that bucket that most of us might have missed.
How many of us could see that bucket as anything but a tin container for holding water?
How many of us could see it as the answer to a question that we had not even asked?
As something that could save our lives?
Samuel saw it as his way out.
How many of us would have missed the bucket?
I keep coming back to that.
Asking myself that question.
Samuel kept saying, “I don’t know what others will get from my story.”
For me, his story leaves me asking: Can I see answers in places that others would not?
And do I have the guts to pull it off?