Photo (left to right) Magda Brown, Dr. Octavian Gabor, Rochelle Rainey
Remembrance by Dr. Octavian Gabor, Professor, Methodist College
On July 7, 2020, Mrs. Magda Brown, Holocaust survivor, passed away at the age of 93. She visited Methodist College three times, always with a smile on her face. I will not say many things about Mrs. Brown’s life. You can see her here, in one of her previous visits at Methodist College, or read about her on her website. But I will share with you some thoughts about my encounter with her because I think it will say something about who Mrs. Brown was.
I met her for the first time almost eight years ago. She was a guest speaker for one of my classes taught at Methodist College, Suffering and Forgiveness. We discuss in that class two traumatic historical events: the Holocaust and the communist persecution. Mrs. Brown was my guest and my senior. Both were reasons for me to take care of her. However, just a few moments after we met, I realized that I was the one who received care. I felt as if I had known her forever and that, somehow, she was my grandma. Sure enough, anytime we communicated after this event, she was ending her emails with, and I quote, “lots of grandma hugs.”
I think this says much about Mrs. Brown. She was—and I have difficulties to speak about her in the past—a human being out of whom life was supposed to be taken out. She was a human being who was separated from her dear ones, who were sent to death in gas chambers. She was a human being who was treated by others as if she had no human dignity. However, when you met Mrs. Brown you encountered life. It was a life of a human who lived in connection with others and who defined herself in offering her presence and care to others. It is in this way that she expressed the highest dignity of a human being, which can never be taken away by any violence that may temporarily attempt to destroy us. The darkest of dungeons become light and beauty when one takes care of another. Mrs. Brown was in this way a birthgiver of beauty in that she was the expression of what it is to be a human being: taking care of another.
I teach in a health sciences college, where people study to become caretakers, to offer their skills and their presence to cure others. I mention this because Mrs. Brown herself worked as a medical assistant. But by her life and her talks, Mrs. Brown cured more than the body. She took care of our historical wounds, because this past is part of us regardless of whether we have been there or not. And she used to do this by giving voice to those who had no voice.
I believe that the energy Mrs. Brown had came from this: from her dedication to goodness. I know that whenever she visited us, through her stories, she gave voice and life to those who had none.
For two decades, Magda Brown and her daughter, Rochelle, traveled across the country and around the world, driven by a mission to share Magda’s harrowing story of surviving the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps and building a new life in the United States. Magda embraced every opportunity to reach people, speaking to more than 100,000 people in person – and reaching millions more online. (www.magdabrown.com)