His grandmother was sent by the Nazis to a forced labor camp near Berlin when she was sixteen. When she got scarlet fever and could no longer work, the Nazis put her on a train to a concentration camp, Camp De Gurs, in the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains. Over a thousand of the 13,000 people died of starvation and illness the first five months they were there.
His grandfather escaped the Nazis by leaving early. He came to the United States in l938 and returned to Europe in a soldier’s uniform. He was among the GIs landing at Normandy Beach, serving with the US Army 5th Engineers Amphibious Special Brigade.
At first, his grandparents didn’t talk much about their experiences. When Jacob was eight, they began opening up.
“My grandfather heard me say I hated my math teacher,” Jacob recalls. “He pulled me aside and went off on me saying he didn’t ever want to hear me say that word again because hate causes war.”
Slowly, his grandparents began telling their story so that their grandson would understand. Most powerful were the letters Jacob’s grandfather wrote shortly after he arrived in the United States. One Jacob still carries to this day.
“Life is beautiful if we know how to live,” his grandfather wrote in l939, “if we know that our life has the purpose to accomplish things that make the world a place of glory. Life is grand, if we understand that we are born to do our part to make the world a home for all. We are born to respect the rights of our neighbors, to live in universal brotherhood.
Today we live in a world that struggles to gain and secure the precious treasures of life: liberty, justice, and humanity. It is the duty of all decent peoples in the world to back up the forces who protect the rights of mankind.
It is a privilege for the Jews of the world to join the fighting ranks of those countries which are the defenders of the greatest ideals that will ever be: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of press. We Jews are proud to be refused by the forces who want world-domination, who bring destruction to culture and civilization.
Let us gladly accept the task that we are to bear. Let us gladly accept the challenge of the anti-humane world. Let us gladly answer the call to defend the greatest ideals of civilization. We, who are privileged to live in this blessed country; we, who have seen the terror and the disaster, let us pledge our lives and all we possess to the cause for which this country and its allies fight.
Let us pray that God will rule a world that knows not hate, but love. A world that knows no wars, but peace. A world that knows no destruction, but creation. A world where all people shall live in brotherhood, in neighborly respect, in dignity. Let us pray that the generations to come will know to appreciate our efforts to make this world safe and happy, where Jews and Christians and people of all faiths will shake hands as God’s children.”
In the words of Gandhi, “Hatred ever kills, love never dies. Such is the vast difference between the two. What is obtained by love is retained for all time. What is obtained by hatred proves a burden in reality, for it increases hatred. The duty of a human being is to diminish hatred and to promote love.”