There are a number of things that normal people like you and I cannot imagine. We cannot imagine having millions of dollars to spend like the footballers we all follow. We cannot imagine having brilliant minds like those that put men on the moon. And we can also never imagine what it is like to be a survivor of the Holocaust.
These people had to live through horrors that people should never have been subjected to. Around six million people perished during that period of onslaught from 1941 to 1945. Some, however, were lucky enough to live to tell the tale. One such man was Abba Naor.
Bayern Munich were lucky enough to hear his story at the FC Bayern Campus on the first of June. As part of commemorative work with the FC Bayern Museum, Naor was invited to share his experiences in his roller coaster of a life, and the lessons he learned from it.
Naor was taken to a concentration camp at the age of 13 along with his family. While he and his father survived, his mother and brother were among the many that died. To lose loved ones at such a young age to such horrendous circumstances, not to mention having to live through them himself, is enough to scar any sane person for life.
Naor, however, has braved those scars, and is not willing to let his past define his life. Surprisingly, he also does not seem to harbor any hate for those who stripped him of so much during the war. “If you’re unable to forgive, you’ll have a miserable life,” he said. “You can’t live with hate. Hate eats people up.” He also mentioned the beauty of human contact, the thing that keeps life going. “Love thy neighbor. The nicest thing there is is loving thy neighbor. Human-to-human existence,” he added. “I still believe in people — that’s not the worst thing.”
These are big words coming from a big man. How can one forgive such atrocities? What does forgiveness mean to someone like Naor, who could be completely excused for hating the people who could well have destroyed his life? “To remain human,” he answered. “And to remain human. We all have to respect each other.” Moving forward, not being stuck in the past, is also an important factor. “We can’t just live with the past,” added Naor, “there is also a future.”
There is indeed. Since that fateful day he was liberated, Naor has rebuilt his nearly decimated family. He now has five grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. “Life is a fine thing, a unique gift,” he said. “There is only this one life.”
Naor has been sharing his stories with many for the past 30 years. But how exactly did he end up at the Bayern campus this particular day? Well, it turns out he has a very strong connection to Munich. His father lived in Munich his entire life, and he was also liberated in Munich as well. To this day, Naor calls Munich home.
An integral part of Munich’s identity, Bayern Munich also occupies a special place in Naor’s heart. “A club like Bayern also has a certain history. It wasn’t just created today or yesterday,” he said. “Bayern was created before the Second World War, and always had good relationships with Jewish people around here or in Munich — and they don’t forget that.” One such good relationship, the one between Naor and FC Bayern, was the one that led him to speak before his privileged audience.
Bayern has always taken pride in its history, but has also never been afraid to dig deeper into its not so bright spots. There were once even Nazi perpetrators in the club’s ranks, but there is no point in denying it, and no point in glossing over, according to FC Bayern Museum director Petra Leufstedt. “It’s not about putting things in a better light, but simply understanding history,” she said.
FCB is a living, breathing, piece of history, as is Naor. But Naor did not forget to value the sporting aspect of the club as well as its roots. “Sport is the best opportunity to get to know people and make friends with people,” said Naor. “You shouldn’t pass it up.”
Naor himself is apparently a big fan of Bayern legend Thomas Müller, which is the main reason he got in contact with Bayern in the first place. Although he wasn’t lucky enough to meet Müller in person, since the latter is currently on international duty, he was nevertheless able to receive a gift and give one as well through his words.
Hopefully one day Naor can actually meet his beloved Thomas. It would be the least one can do to just one of the bravest, strongest people in the world.