Penina Bowman was 17 years old when soldiers showed up at her home in Hungary and told her family they had 20 minutes to pack their bags. They were told they were being sent away to work, but the train brought them to Auschwitz. Penina lost her parents and 42 other relatives to the Holocaust, but she and her three siblings survived. She credits her sisters and her faith for her survival.
“Having something to believe in helped us survive. ”
I refused to eat when I first got to Auschwitz. I wouldn’t touch the food because it wasn’t kosher. My sister didn’t know what to do because it looked like I was killing myself. She tried to talk me into eating and it didn’t work. Then she found one of our aunts who was in Auschwitz for a short time—she disappeared after a while—and she told me that it’s a bigger sin to commit suicide than to eat non-kosher food. So she took the food and pushed it into my mouth.
When I first came to the United States, I saw so many of my fellow Holocaust survivors who were destroying themselves because of their hate. They couldn’t enjoy life, they couldn’t go on with their lives, and I said, “this is not going to happen to me.” I don’t hate anybody. Hate is very powerful. It destroys yourself instead of destroying other people.
Because of what I went through, I learned to appreciate everything and not make a big deal out of things.
People don’t realize how lucky they are, so they make a big deal out of small things. I don’t worry about little things. I let them be.
Penina Bowman short audio clips
Penina Bowman full audio
- Who are the people around you that help you keep going when things are tough? What is it about those people that have such an impact on you? What values/characteristics do they hold that you would like to develop in yourself? Which of those values/characteristics do you have in common?
- Do you think it would be justified for Penina to hate her oppressors? Is there anyone you hate? How does possessing/not possessing that hate shape you? How does it influence your interaction with other people?
- Do you ever catch yourself making a big deal out of small things? Is your worry ever justified in these situations?
- In what areas of your life are you driven by fear? How does that fear drive you/inhibit you? Do you see a way to transfer fear into something constructive?
- What convictions do you hold most strongly? How do those convictions play out in a practical sense? How do they affect your everyday life and the decisions you make?