It was Sunday morning in the spring of 1976 when I set up my tripod in front of Arno’s house and took this picture before we walked over to his church for services. It is the only photo I have of us together and I’m glad that it’s been saved over 35+ years.
Arno was then the age I am now, fairly ancient I thought at the time but suddenly not so old anymore. We had been having lunch together about once a week for 3 years at this point and I had found Arno to be more alive than about anyone I knew. His gratitude for having escaped the Nazis and for having been able to make such a good life for himself and his family here in America was boundless.
At an inexpensive, noisy restaurant at about the time of this photo, Arno told me the story that, perhaps more than any other, shaped the future course of his life, because without this moment, there would have been no future. He had already told me about the co-worker he’d known for years who showed up one day in a Brownshirt uniform. Arno, sitting across from him in the company lunchroom, asked, “What would you do if you were a Jew in Germany today?” Immediately the Brownshirt replied, “I’d commit suicide!” Arno knew it was time to go, if he could.
Within a few weeks Arno and his wife Martha were at the Swiss border for a “ski trip”, carrying with them everything they could and not look suspicious. The Customs official took Arno’s documents and saw that Arno had a medical condition noted, a hernia. The official began handing back the papers to Arno and said, “You can’t enter Switzerland with a medical condition.” Arno looked at him and said, “Man, this is my life.” The official halted, looked at Arno and Martha and paused for what must have seemed an eternity. Slowly he took back the papers, stamped them for entry and let them pass.
This moment of compassion saved Arno and Martha’s lives. Within 2 months no Jews could get out of Germany except by underground means. He spent the rest of his life studying, writing and speaking about relationship and the difference compassion can make. Without compassion life is bleak and unforgiving; with compassion life is vibrant and alive. Acts of compassion breed compassion, try it over the next few days. Show a little more kindness to those you encounter. Be of help when the opportunity arises. As in the case with Arno, you never know how a small act now might have huge consequences down the line. I know my life would be much different had it not been for the compassion Arno showed me all those years ago.
- The Mysterious Arno (mentorboom.com)