The inspiration for this collection
My father, Steve Sr., was imprisoned by the Nazis in his hometown of Binsfeld in the tiny country of Luxembourg after departing Christmas Eve mass in 1944. Due to the resistance movement in the area organized by the Catholic Church, the Nazis had decided to round up random hostages and execute them. My father was scheduled to be executed on New Year's Day 1945.
As the execution was unfolding, however, an empty German supply truck passed by. The driver addressed the executioner and suggested the prisoners be loaded up and sent to Germany for slave labor.
The prisoners were thus spared the fate of execution but would be forced to endure brutal slave labor, starvation, and unspeakable conditions. Five months later, just before the end of the war, the Germans began to march my father and hundreds of other concentration camp captives to the extermination camp of Buchenwald. It was on this march that my father escaped.
When I was twelve years old, I interviewed my father in a series of sessions about those dark times for a sixth grade school project. It is difficult to express just how moving those discussions were and how much of an impact they had on me.
I recall a particularly poignant story. On the evening of that fateful Christmas Eve imprisoning, my father stood in his cramped, freezing cold cell. The silence was suddenly cracked by a lone German soldier singing "Stille Nacht" or "Silent Night" in a drunken voice. My father related how ironic it was to listen to the lyrics "sleep in heavenly peace." In that story is the kernel that gave rise to the motivation for this collection.
At the time, it was difficult for me to even understand how he found the will to carry on during all those incredibly trying days. I would later come to understand my father's love for his family gave him the uncommon strength to persevere through such extreme trials.
Even though he was only seventeen when captured, he was the glue that kept the family together. His older brother was killed in the war and he had a baby brother born during the war. The birth was complicated, leaving their mother bed-ridden. The family made their livelihood from subsistence farming while their father, Gabriel, also worked in the mines. It was my father who would need to tend to his ailing mother and baby brother while also working on the farm.
It was at this stage, the Nazis took my father away. While in the concentration camps, my father knew how badly his family needed him. So it was through this deep sense of purpose and family bond that my father found such profound strength to survive, escape, and ultimately return home.
When it was time for him to start his own family, he chose to immigrate to the United States. He wanted to guarantee his future family freedom, opportunity, and above all peace.
The lessons I received from those interviews over 35 years ago provide the deep wellspring from which this collection finds its passion. Time and again throughout history countless stories such as my father's are forced to play out as the result of senseless conflict.
As I began to ponder ways in which I could express my gratitude for my father's example while also expressing the universal yearning for peace, the idea for this collection was conceived.
While my father's biography is a big influence, my own international travel has also shaped my world view. By the age of twenty nine, I had traveled to thirty countries and had studied and worked on four continents. I discovered so many wonderful stories of great courage across so many disparate cultures. It is my hope that this collection will appropriately honor these great people and their contributions to the pursuit of peace.
Surely if global peace is ever to be achieved, we will need to follow the Great Peacemakers' examples. We will all need to courageously look within and find our own wellspring of faith, hope, and love to overcome our patterns of fear and mistrust.
Thank you kindly for your interest in this collection and, more importantly, your personal efforts for a more just and peaceful world!
A portrait of my father I painted of him.
Hinzert Concentration Camp drawn by my father (Steve Simon, Sr.) from memory upon returning home after his escape. He endured brutal treatment in this camp and other locations in Germany from January to May of 1945.