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