We might say Max Glauben started becoming the 2019 Texan of the Year in 1941 when he wriggled into a cramped smuggler’s space under the false bottom of a horse-drawn wagon to sneak out of the Warsaw Ghetto in search of food. He had a homemade tool, a funnel with a sharp end, with which to siphon rice or beans out of burlap shipping sacks. Show Full Story
The war had started two years before. Four hundred thousand Jews had been corralled into a tiny corner of Poland the size of Central Park, living nine to a room, with insufficient food and sanitation. Glauben made these trips many times, each time finding a clever way to sneak past Nazi guards, each time returning with a little food, a new weapon, or a report that he had successfully delivered a missive to the Jewish underground. He was 13.
A few weeks from now, Glauben will be 92. At 5-foot-3 he’s still small enough, and probably spry enough, to fit into a smuggler’s hold. His preoccupation these days is not with hiding things, but with bringing them into the light. Glauben is one of a rapidly shrinking number of survivors who can remember what is arguably humankind’s darkest chapter. He is a tireless speaker, sharing his incredible story of survival with schools, museums and civic groups as often as he can. He is a key player in the creation of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
And, inexplicably, he smiles. A lot. Glauben peers out with searching eyes from wiry glasses and a face deeply creased along the frame of a wide grin. He wears gray chinos, simple button-down oxfords, no jacket. Frieda, his wife, can’t get him to wear a winter coat. “I’ve tried,” she says, shaking her head. While the couple poses for a portrait in the dining room of their North Dallas home, the photographer asks them to stand closer. “Pretend you like him,” he quips to Frieda, jokingly. “Oh, it’s true,” she corrects, an arm on his shoulder. “I do.”
And with that, Max and Frieda Glauben embody virtues our society is in danger of losing: faithfulness, authenticity, optimism, humility, wisdom, grace, and a strength that seems too much to carry in a shaky, thin-haired frame. Glauben, in German, means believe. And this scene in the couple’s dining room is enough to make anyone believe that we might just be OK. The headlines might be wrong. The world might not finally spin off into shortsighted, tech-fueled, hate-spewing ruin because Max Glauben is here telling us to be nice to one another and Frieda, 66 years into their life together, just said, “I do.”
Enduring the Holocaust
We might say Max Glauben was becoming the 2019 Texan of the Year in 1943, the year he was orphaned. The process of losing his family began when Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto started to revolt against their oppressors. Glauben’s family, his father Isaak, mother Faiga, and little brother Heniek, was one of the last out of the ghetto. They had become masters at subterfuge. His father, part owner of a newspaper, was well-connected. He knew when Nazi crackdowns might be coming. And he knew which guards were open to bribes. Glauben remembers a large underground shelter, its entrance hidden behind a brick oven. He remembers the process involved in hiding there. The top of the oven was covered with a layer of sand. The last person through the hatch had to reach back through a hole and scatter a bucketful of sand around the top of the oven, concealing the fact that it had recently been opened.
But even the best hiding places didn’t last against the Nazi siege. Eventually, an informant led German soldiers to the hatch. One dropped a grenade into it. Those who weren’t killed by the blast were taken captive and loaded onto a boxcar headed for the Majdanek concentration camp. That boxcar is a pivotal scene in Glauben’s story and its impact on Texas.
It was a rectangular box built on a steel frame with wooden slats. The ceiling was covered with tar paper in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the interior protected from the weather. With less than 250 square feet of floor space, cars of this type were built to carry several tons of stacked cargo. A photograph from Britain’s Imperial War Museum, taken in 1939, shows this type of car carrying British soldiers. A stamp on the side of the car announces its capacity: 40 men or eight horses. Glauben and his family boarded their car with more than 100 people. Doors were locked from the outside. Many of their fellow passengers were sick or wounded. The car smelled of excrement. The journey lasted five days.
Glauben is a practical man. Straightforward and sensible. He isn’t given to sentimental daydreams or existential crises. But he remembers looking out a knothole in that boxcar at the blooming Polish hills. It was May. Temperatures were warming. Outside the car were shades of green and bees tapping sunflowers. “And I wondered why I had to be in here. Why couldn’t I be out there?” he said.
The answer to that — or rather the fact that there was no answer to that — was part of the Nazi psychological trauma. Victims were abused severely for breaking even the most trivial rules. And prisoners often paid for their colleagues’ sins. In the case of egregious offenses, a representative group of prisoners would be assembled in view of the whole camp and made to lie in formation, faces to the ground, Glauben remembered. They might stay that way for hours, or overnight. And often, the following morning, some would be missing, only their boots left in silent formation.
But the violence was not just to force compliance. It was also to rob prisoners of any sense of order or control. Prisoners were stripped, beaten or shot sometimes for no reason at all. If you’re as likely to die for having curly hair as you are for attempting escape, then you lose context. You learn helplessness.
As the boxcar to Majdanek traveled south from Warsaw it morphed into a rolling coffin. By the time it reached its destination, half of its passengers were dead. “So you were laying like sardines among bodies,” Glauben said. No food or water was provided, but the breath of so many prisoners caused condensation on the paper ceiling. Glauben remembers neighbors climbing over one another for a chance to lick the tar paper. One of the many lessons he learned about survival — lessons no teenager should ever have to learn — was this: It’s more painful to die of dehydration than of starvation.
On the third floor of the Holocaust museum in Dallas, archivists have restored a German-built boxcar like the one Glauben’s family rode to Majdanek. It’s clean and empty. It sits as a gateway from one side of the exhibition to the other. Visitors must pass through the boxcar, and when just a few visitors stand in the car together, it feels cramped. Stuffy. Museum officials expect 200,000 visitors per year to shuffle through that boxcar. At that rate, it will take 30 years of museumgoers to equal the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
When the boxcar carrying Glauben’s family stopped at Majdanek, soldiers herded the living off the train. They separated men who could work from women and children, who were considered less valuable. Glauben’s father grabbed his hand and told him to stand tall. He needed to look more like a man than a boy that day. It worked. He was taken with the men, given a tattoo, a work assignment, and a number: 14732. His brother, still not quite a teen, followed his mother in the other line.
Majdanek was one of the largest concentration camps operated by the Nazis. Originally built as a work camp, it was converted to darker ends: sorting and killing people on an industrial scale. It had seven gas chambers and several wooden gallows. According to the website of the museum now located there, 80,000 people would be murdered at Majdanek by the end of the war. Faiga and Heniek Glauben were among them.
Three weeks later, three prisoners went missing, so guards rounded up 30 other victims — 10 for each missing prisoner — and arrayed them facedown in formation to wait. Isaak Glauben was one of those selected. It was Friday evening. Sabbath was about to begin.
“When I got up in the morning, his boots were standing in the middle of where the 30 lay, among 10 or 12 other pair of shoes,” Glauben said. "To this day, I don’t know how he died.”
By morning, the missing prisoners had been discovered. They had been in the latrine. None had escaped. Isaak Glauben’s death had paid no one’s ransom. His life and family were simply forfeit to the Nazi’s genocidal machine. Only his empty boots and teenage son were left to his memory.
We might say Max Glauben was becoming the 2019 Texan of the Year in April 1945. He was on another train. In the two years since his family’s killing, he had been a prisoner at a total of five camps: Majdanek, Budzyn, Mielec, Wieliczka and Flossenburg. It was springtime again and he was sharing another railcar with prisoners on their way to Dachau, a concentration camp in southern Germany. He had survived the way he always did: with a quick mind, a strong work ethic (he worked on Heinkel and Messerschmitt airplanes in work camps), a little cunning, some dumb luck and divine protection.
“I definitely believe there’s somebody who runs this show,” Glauben said, pointing skyward. “When I lost my mom and whole family, he became the guide that’s guiding me. I feel like God has placed me here for a certain purpose, that I would speak up for the ones who didn’t make it, because they cannot be here to speak.”
He speaks often, sometimes attending two or three events per day. When asked how many times he has shared his testimony, he just smiles and shrugs. When asked how many times he has spoken this year, he retrieves his bill from the North Texas Tollway Authority. It shows he made 72 trips down the Dallas North Tollway, almost all of them to the museum to speak.
Earlier this year, Glauben became one of the first survivors to be filmed for a program called Dimensions In Testimony sponsored by the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California. Shoah is the Hebrew word for Holocaust. The foundation was established in 1994 by filmmaker Steven Spielberg to record testimonies like Glauben’s. Shoah’s archive has since expanded to include 55,000 testimonies from witnesses to 10 genocides. Stephen D. Smith, the executive director of the foundation, said Glauben’s story stands out. He called Glauben “a little guy with this enormous heart.”
The Dimensions In Testimony project uses new technology to capture interviews in three-dimensional holograms. The Dallas museum has one of the first installations of the system. Earlier this year, Glauben sat for 40 hours of interviews over the course of several days, telling his story in detail and responding to hundreds of questions. All of that content is loaded into the holographic system along with voice recognition software so that museum visitors can ask him almost any question and get a response. Those 200,000 visitors per year, many of them schoolchildren on field trips, will get a near-realistic face-to-face conversation with a Holocaust survivor. When the holographic theater was unveiled earlier this year, D magazine hailed it with the headline, “Max Glauben Will Live Forever.”
The holographic Glauben will have a lot of work to do to catch up with the flesh-and-blood Glauben. “He has devoted 40 years to sharing his testimony,” said Mary Pat Higgins, chief executive of the museum. He speaks in middle school classrooms, high school auditoriums, military bases, football stadiums and at civic club luncheons. In 2013, he spoke at the United Nations in New York at the opening of a Holocaust remembrance exhibition. In 2016, he spoke to 7,000 people in Kyle Field at a Texas A&M University event timed to compete with a speech by white supremacist Richard Spencer across campus. Glauben didn’t mention Spencer that night. He seldom talks about his opponents. “We glorify them when we mention their name,” he said. And moments later when his story includes Adolf Hitler, he replaces the name with, “the man that did all the horrible things.”
That is quintessentially Glauben. He is relentlessly focused on the good. His speeches are full of the kind of wisdom that seems simple at first. “Do the good thing and not the bad thing.” “Think about the good.” It’s an approach informed by his practical outlook and by his faith.
Scholars believe the book of Job to be the oldest writing in the Hebrew Bible, and it tackles one of humanity’s oldest questions. Job is wealthy and happy until tragedy strikes. His children die, his wealth is lost, and he’s afflicted with a socially isolating disease. When Job asks God why he would allow such things, the answer he gets isn’t very satisfying. God tells him that the answers are above his pay grade — that there will always be things he doesn’t understand because he’s not God. Job has to decide if he can still trust a God he cannot understand.
Glauben’s philosophy seems to mirror that ancient simplicity. When asked about these knotty issues, he doesn’t pontificate.
“It won’t do me good to go back to what happened and dwell on that and create hate,” he said.
Avoiding hate is a frequent theme in Glauben’s talks. He quotes Alan Simpson’s eulogy for the late President George H.W. Bush: “Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.” Glauben’s metaphor sounds a bit more old world: “Hate grows in the hater like yeast in dough.” So the answer — the lesson we must learn from survivors like him — is not to hold hate. Without any flicker of irony, he says, “I want to repay for all the good things that happened to me.”
The good he has in mind is the sight of the 179th Signal Repair Company, led by a Lieutenant Basik, the first American Glauben had ever met, and the person who came to represent his rescue.
The train to Dachau had barely left Flossenburg when it came under fire, strafed by warplanes. Several of the bullets pierced the boxcar, one killing a man right in front of Glauben. In the retelling, he motions with open hands toward his chest as if to signal a spray of blood. But he stops short.
“I don’t want to describe that,” he says.
This, too, is typical of Glauben’s testimony. He edits. He avoids gore. He is a survivor, not a novelty act.
But he doesn’t exclude the harsh truth. He tells of death, torture and oppression with perfect clarity and an impressive memory. He recites addresses, dates and other details as if he were talking about last week. He still remembers his family address in Warsaw — 38 Mila St., Apartment 43 — and the color of the wooden chair smashed by a Nazi guard for use as a makeshift club. “I close my eyes and I can see these things,” he said.
Every summer for the past 14 years, Glauben has led a group of youth on a tour of Holocaust sites called the March of the Living, including the very spot where his family members died. And he has made seven trips to speak at Flossenburg. He returns to some of the world’s most somber places to remember its most wicked stories. You would think 40 years of revisiting such a past might darken the teller’s perspective. If you lived through the Holocaust you have every right to be bitter about your past and cynical about humanity. But Glauben isn’t. He says telling his story is a mitzvah, a good deed done in the name of God. That, more than the hologram, might be the reason Max Glauben lives forever.
The train to Dachau was disabled by gunfire so prisoners were unloaded and forced on a death march. They traveled at night. During the day, they would be herded into a circle in the forest in an effort to hide the march from Allied patrol planes, Glauben remembered. After a week of marching, while huddled under trees, the 400 survivors heard engines; deeper, throatier engines than the whining aircraft they were used to hearing overhead. This was something new, a glimmer of hope. German soldiers had placed machine guns to guard the circle of prisoners at a distance. But Glauben and seven other boys decided to make a run for it. It was a daring move, but it paid off: The soldiers had abandoned their posts.
The boys found their way to a village where all the locals, save one woman, refused them lodging. The next morning, she told them they had to leave. They started to walk south, and about midday, at a place called Neukirchen-Balbini, Glauben and the other boys looked up to see something otherworldly coming down the road toward them: a column of American tanks. It was April 23, 1945, five months before the end of the war, two years after losing his family. He was 17.
Lieutenant Basik (his first name is one of very few details Glauben doesn’t remember) gave the boys rations wrapped in Army-issued ponchos. He took them into the company of soldiers and gave them jobs to do. To Glauben, it was the closest thing to family he had experienced in years.
Following his liberation, Holocaust survivor Max Glauben worked as a laborer at a U.S. military camp in Nuremberg, Germany. (courtesy of Max Glauben)(Max Glauben)
In the months that followed, Glauben lived in an Allied-controlled displaced persons camp, then in an orphanage in Germany. In 1947, he immigrated to the United States under the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration created under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He came to New York first and then was moved to a foster home in Atlanta.
When he turned 18, he registered for the draft in the U.S. He had never forgotten the kindness shown him by Lieutenant Basik and the soldiers who liberated him. They had given him food, protection and an American uniform to replace his tattered, blood-stained clothing.
In 1951, Glauben got his own uniform when he was drafted and shipped to Fort Hood. He had a car, a 1939 Chevy, and on weekends he would give his Army buddies a ride to Dallas. On one of those trips, he met Frieda Gappelberg.
He was in the Army for two years, served in the Korean War and attained the rank of staff sergeant. As soon as his active duty ended, he moved to Dallas and proposed to Frieda. They were married June 14, 1953.
Building a legacy
We might say Max Glauben was becoming the 2019 Texan of the Year in 1977 when he sat in the living room of another survivor named Mike Jacobs at the first meeting of Holocaust survivors in Dallas. That group of about 30 became the movement that led to the creation of the museum, Higgins said. In fact, it created more than one. The first museum was a modest display in the basement of the Jewish Community Center. It opened in 1984. Max and Frieda were both on the first board of directors. Max went on to serve as chairman.
In 2005, the museum moved to the West End as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance. And in 2013, the museum began raising money for its newest expression, which opened this September. Glauben is a lifetime member of the museum’s board and has been consistently involved through every phase.
“I think Max is like the heart of this place,” Higgins said, sitting in her office at the museum. “He inspired us all to keep going. I can think of specific board meetings where he would stand up and say how proud he was of the people that were working so hard to make this happen and what a dream it was and how it was realizing the survivors’ dream. And that just made us work all the harder.”
Glauben has inspired more than the museum staff. The capital campaign that started in 2013 set a goal of raising $41 million. In the end, the organization raised $78 million. A remarkable 31% of that came from non-Jewish donors, an uncommonly high amount for fundraising campaigns associated with Jewish nonprofits, Higgins said, and one that shows how much Texans have embraced the museum’s message.
Changing the world
We might say Max Glauben was becoming the 2019 Texan of the Year on Sept. 17 when he took the stage next to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson at the opening of the new museum. Glauben called it a 40-year dream come true. The 55,000-square-foot facility is the newest and most technologically advanced of the nation’s 21 Holocaust-related museums. It features a 250-seat theater where Glauben holds forth often, an expanded library and archives, an outdoor courtyard for special events, and a memorial and reflections room.
Smith, from the Shoah Foundation, said projects like the museum help develop empathy, understanding and respect, the very virtues history might have robbed from these victims.
“This amazing, amazing group of people have come through soul-destroying, family-destroying, community-destroying experiences which could leave them in a place of despair, anger and revenge quite justifiably,” Smith said. “And yet they come through that and talk about values of humanity. They counter the hatred and the anger and violence of their oppressors by being resilient. By leading through example. By talking about how we respect one another. By being warriors for humanity.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has grown every year since 2013. Last year, law enforcement agencies reported 7,120 hate crimes in the United States, and more hate crimes were reported against Jews than any other religious group, according to FBI data.
The museum’s message, one that Glauben repeats often, is to encourage people to be “upstanders” rather than “bystanders.” It’s a historically grounded version of the “see something, say something” message. And it’s another benefit Glauben never got. He speaks to students about the value of education, about honoring their parents, about enjoying childhood, about standing up for fairness.
"All of these things that were taken from him,” Higgins said. “He knows how valuable they are.”
And if the time is right, the place is too. The museum’s address on Houston Street is a block away from Dealey Plaza and the site of one of history’s most famous acts of political violence. In some way, the holographic Glauben might finally speak out the very hope and faith that was taken from Dallas 56 years ago.
There’s a word in the Torah — shalom — that we translate as “peace.” But the Hebrew connotation carries more freight than our English word. It means more than simply a cessation of hostilities. When the UN negotiates a cease-fire, it hasn’t created shalom. Shalom means health and flourishing. It means the world set right. It means an Edenic reality under God’s benevolent reign where swords become plowshares, hate gives way to brotherhood, and upstanders guard the rights of the “other.”
Perhaps shalom is why a man can endure Europe’s darkest atrocities and emerge as Texas’ brightest light. Perhaps shalom is why a man who still carries a tattoo that marked him for destruction can put his mark of good-natured tolerance on so many other lives. Perhaps shalom is why generations of young Texans will learn the value of justice and fairness in a Dallas museum. In an age of division, in a time of suspicion, and in a culture where we worship the newest, emptiest viral bling, perhaps the wrinkled, smiling wisdom of shalom can show us a better way. Shalom marks the kind of world Glauben is working to create. And for that, Max Glauben is the 2019 Texan of the Year.