By Aaron Greenberg
Special to the TJP
Seventy-five years ago, Max Glauben survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and several Nazi concentration camps.
Last week, Glauben, who is short of stature but full of energy and humor, stood before a crowded room and recounted his journey to an audience mesmerized by his story. That, in itself, is not unusual. Glauben often speaks to groups and is listed as one of the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s survivor speakers.
This audience at American Airlines headquarters, however, included a very diverse group of employees from throughout the company, as well as CEO Doug Parker and several executives.
“There are a lot of people who came up to me and said they’d never heard something like this before,” said Aaron Herstein, president of the Jewish Employee Business Resource Group at American (JEBRG), which hosted Glauben’s appearance.
“It’s really important to show to our company what’s happened in the past and how it affects us now,” Herstein said, “and to show that American Airlines as a company is supportive of everyone.”
JEBRG members and company officials worked with Deborah and Mark Fisher, employees, who are longtime friends of Max and his wife Frieda, to bring Glauben to speak.
The Glaubens spent a good part of the day at American. After an executive luncheon, Max came out to a sixth-floor meeting room to speak. A number of additional chairs were required at the last minute to seat all those attending — something several employees said they didn’t recall ever seeing before.
Glauben was introduced by Maya Leibman, executive vice president and chief information officer, and Deborah Fisher.
Leibman related what Glauben said to her beforehand during a discussion of issues with technology: “I may get frustrated, but I never give up.”
The Fishers befriended the Glaubens at Shearith Israel. Deborah Fisher said her children see Max and Frieda as grandparents, especially since their own relatives live out of town.
Glauben does not write his speeches down, just some of the important names and dates, many of which he learned or verified years after his Holocaust experiences.
He related his upbringing in Warsaw, and how his family lived where the ghetto would be established, and were made to build the walls around it. They hid in bomb shelters during the destruction of the ghetto and were discovered afterward by the Nazis.
Glauben was very young, but had luck on his side when the camp officials decided who would be put to work and who would die. They thought he was two years older, and he looked larger next to his small father, whom he stayed close to.
“I am mechanically inclined and could perform the duties I was assigned,” he said, which included work at an aircraft factory.
He went from camp to camp, ending up in Germany. In April 1945, as the Nazi regime was in its final days, Glauben was taken on a death march. The dangers included a trip back and forth on a boxcar through Allied fire, killing hundreds.
Despite years in the ghetto and camps, he survived the war, his spirit unbroken. He was liberated by an American unit and spent two years in Nuremberg, where he became a mess sergeant for Polish soldiers guarding German prisoners of war. As an orphan, he was eligible to get a quota waiver and come to the U.S., which he did in 1947.
Glauben has often traveled to Europe since, including five times to Germany and 12 times on the March of the Living. It’s meaningful to him to watch young people get a sense of the brutality he lived through years ago. As he puts it, his speeches have no “scenery.”
“But if you go to Europe and see where these things happened, you see reality, see the magnitude,” he said.
He related the way the Majdanek camp stuns visitors. There’s a mushroom shape in the distance, he said. It takes some effort to get there, and the view is shocking.
“You look in the center and there’s a mound of 7 tons of human ashes and bone. The kids who see it break down,” Glauben said.
Still, he takes a positive approach to how he wants the lessons applied.
“I believe that we as Holocaust survivors should deliver our testimony in a way that does not create the same hate that was applied to us,” Glauben said.
He added that “today’s youth is the finest element of humanity that has ever lived in this world,” citing the way they’ve been given more freedom, the push to end bullying and the easy access to computers and information.
When Glauben finished speaking, he received thunderous applause. Instead of a question and answer session, he took some time to chat and take photos with several people. He then went to a table to sign copies of his DVD, Plagues of the Soul.
Glauben remained quite animated afterward, walking and talking with some of the executives and posing for more photos. Despite having just listened to a tale from one of the most difficult chapters in human history, they seemed to have an extra bounce in their steps thanks to his upbeat presence.
Herstein related how Glauben easily found ways to connect with the execs over lunch, and made people smile throughout the day talking about airline points, technology and whatever came to mind.
“It was funny, he always has something to say. He knows a lot about a lot of different things.”
American Airlines prides itself on diversity, and JEBRG is one of more than 20 employee resource groups covering different groups by ethnicity, age, race, religion and more. The company’s Diversity Advisory Council has placed in the top 25 each of the past nine years for the Association of ERGs & Councils, out of 1,300 applicants. It is the only one to stay in the top 10 each year.
Brooke Peterson, senior specialist in corporate communications, said the airline believes in establishing a safe space for employees. ERG members are given a chance to share some of their personal life with those who share a background or interest.
“Our objective is to create an inclusive environment so they can come to work as their authentic self,” said Mike Waldron, managing director for diversity and talent.
Two members of each ERG serve on the advisory council, and there are chapters not only in the Metroplex, but throughout American’s worldwide presence.
Anila Jivanji, senior specialist for inclusion and diversity, said the groups are very active, mentioning upcoming events such as a Diwali dinner Nov. 1, and an Inclusion Works Summit Nov. 3 featuring three Paralympians.
JEBRG was established as the American Airlines JERG in 1997, and US Airways formed its group, JHG, in 2011. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim ERGs meet at times for a gathering called Abraham’s Tent, the next of which is Nov. 28, dealing with the role of Abraham in each religion. A Hanukkah party will be held Dec. 14.
This kind of atmosphere makes for a good fit for someone like Glauben, who preaches being an upstander rather than a bystander. He said it was important speaking to a diverse group.
“It enlightens the public, listening to somebody that has been there, of what kind of tragedy it really was,” he said afterward. “It becomes reality in their mind, rather than hearsay.”