Jay Copp 0000-00-00 00:00:00
In lots of ways, Max Herzel, 9, was fortunate. His father, Oscar, was a diamond cutter. His mother, Nachama, was a seamstress. The family, including an older brother, huddled around the sewing machine often until midnight helping his mother fill her orders. The work was hard, but the family was together. But this was 1940 in Europe, and Max was Jewish. When the Nazis invaded Belgium, his family crowded into a dirty boxcar and after seven long days arrived in France, where they were swept up by police and dispatched to a work camp. Max’s mother had a breakdown and tried to kill herself. Older brother Harry joined the French Underground. The Nazis captured Oscar. At age 44, Max’s beloved father died at Buchenwald, three months before the war ended. Max had gone into hiding. He somehow survived the war and the Nazis by posing as a Catholic orphan and living with a family on a remote farm in the Alps. After the war, eventually settling in Birmingham, Alabama, Herzel desperately sought a normal life. He also wanted to refute the horrors he knew, to stand as a personal testament to the goodness of the world. He joined the Lions. “I saw evil and wanted to do good,” he says modestly. “I wanted to prove something to myself by doing good. It was a reversal. I wanted to prove the world was not all about evil and has lots of good people.” A Lion since 1978, he has served as district governor. Today he is president of the Homewood Metro Lions Club. “I’ve met a lot of good people. I’ve made lifelong friends,” he says. One of his favorite memories as a Lion was visiting a recycling center and seeing the mounds of glasses, a stark contrast to the piles of glasses and shoes the Nazis plundered from their victims. Herzel’s wife, Cecille, also is a Lion. They have two children. After coming to the United States in 1948, Herzel served in the U.S. Air Force and then enjoyed a long career with the Veterans Administration. In France as the war raged, he spent several years shuttled from orphanage to orphanage before finding safer haven with the Catholic farming family. “I left all my friends. It was a small town. I didn’t know anybody. It was lonely,” he says. But it was not unbearable. “I was well treated. I was never abused. I was part of the family,” he says. Two dozen or so times a year he speaks about his experiences at schools, churches and even Lions clubs. Reliving those days is hard. But he wants his story to show the resiliency of people. “I’m trying to work against hatred, bigotry, injustice. I’m trying to change the world in a small way. “I tell the kids that it was only four-and-ahalf years of my life. It was a painful part of my life. But you have to take everything in context. I’m blessed to be a senior citizen. It’s been a blessing to be in the United States.” He knows his time is running out. He has a simple goal. “I came into an evil world,” he says. “I would like to leave a good world.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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