Education Starts at Home, School is Just Addition

Live like you will die tomorrow, learn like you will live forever.

Mahatma Ghandi

My Father was a well-respected corporate lawyer in Poland. My Mother finished her elementary education in a two-room school in a deep country. Then she moved to Warsaw and soon enrolled in high school there. Starting day was September 1st 1939 at 8 o’clock. I should remind people unfamiliar with that date that at 4:45 am on the same day, the Germans invaded Poland. The Second World War has started. They put her further education on hold.

One way to subjugate a nation is to eliminate intellectuals and stop education. The Germans executed both things flawlessly. In July they executed 1941 25 academics from Lwow University together with their families to eliminate influential and educated people. All Polish schools were closed and only trade schools could function. They designated the Poles to a slave labor. This, however, led to strong resistance. Underground clandestine schools were being created, and some of them became quite advanced. The classes were held in private apartments under a lot of strain. Active 2: If the authorities caught them, they could arrest and even shoot the teachers and students. My father couldn’t continue his legal education and had to work as a clerk in a small furniture company.

After the collapse of the heroic Warsaw uprising, Hitler erased our capital from the world’s map. The Germans decided to burn the city. They did methodically, house by house. One can see these scenes depicted in Polanski’s movie “The Pianist”. They gave my family only a few hours to gather belongings and leave with a couple of suitcases. Our apartment was burned. One of the prized possessions Mother took with them was Father’s official transcript from law school, with courses taken so far. It became priceless in continuing his legal education after the war. The invaders particularly targeted libraries during the destruction of the city.

Mother enrolled in evening school for adults as soon as possible after the war. She was getting up at 4 am to do her homework before the rest of us woke up. For us, the life after the war was tough. She struggled immensely and ultimately did not graduate. However, Mother nurtured this devout approach to education, which my sister and I inherited from her. While my sister and I were in school, the superbly staffed local library was our sanctuary. At home, no one could bother us when we were studying. I remember Mother bringing us sandwiches when we’re preparing for tests. Money was scarce, but there was always enough for books. When we graduated from Medical School, Mother took it as a fulfillment of her goals. She knew that the lion’s share of our success was hers.

For me, education was, and still is, a process, a way of life. It’s not only books, tests, and degrees. Intelligence is not only knowledge of facts but also knowledge of how and when to use it. It’s this wonderful feeling when pieces of puzzle acquired during your entire life come together and picture you are getting instantly become clear. You understand more and everything beginning to make sense.

But again, all this starts at home.


  • Dear WSN,
    It’s your sister again. Thank you for a very emotional and a very true post. I was reading and crying. What a wonderful tribute to our family and our upbringing, as well as, great history lesson for everybody, specially for our children.
    One more thing. When our parents were forced by Germans to leave their apartment, they took with them one more a very prized possession. I was their son WSN- 6 months old baby boy..
    { I was born after the war.}
    Thank you again. Looking forward to read more.

  • I saw The Pianist on a Sunday and on Monday I arrived early for a Surgery Committee and Vito was already there. I told him about the movie, not knowing his own experiences in Poland during that time. His relating of his and his family’s experiences were riveting and I thought about them for a long time. I had only met one other person who had escaped the Holocast and I remember sitting on the floor of my friend’s home listening in horror and also in awe that she was able to escape to the US. Your story, Vito, should remind all of us that the past you speak of wasn’t that long ago and those of us who have never experienced anything remotely like that should be incredibly grateful for everything in our lives and how relatively easy our lives have been. One of the things I am most grateful for has been the experience of knowing and working with you, Vito. You truly are a Renaissance man and a great role model! I look forward to your next blog!


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