Robert Fisch’s Life of Optimism Tempered by Realism
Holocaust survivor, pediatrician and artist speaks at Drew University.
April 2016 – Is it possible to embrace life after enduring the most unspeakable of ordeals?
Robert O. Fisch—pediatrician, clinical researcher, artist, author, and Holocaust survivor—is proof positive that it is.
Fisch was guest speaker at the 2016 George and Alicia Karpati Lecture, held at Drew’s FM Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on April 11. Established in 2005 by Michael and Noémi Neidorff in honor of Noémi Neidorff’s parents, the lecture highlights scholars in the fields of Eastern European history and Jewish and Holocaust studies.
Responding to questions from Javier Viera, dean of Drew Theological School, and Brian Shetler, a student in the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, the Hungarian-born Fisch spoke candidly about his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, including Mauthausen, and the grueling “death march” that brought him there at the age of 19.
He recalled horrors—being forced to sleep sitting up, wedged in so tightly with fellow prisoners that many suffocated during the night—along with rare moments of hope, as when a Nazi soldier known for his brutal beatings of prisoners marched a group of men, Fisch among them, to a distant work site, then fed them and commanded them to rest.
Miraculously, Fisch, now 90, went on to build a joyful, productive life, fighting for Hungarian freedom during the 1956 revolution, immigrating to the U.S. the following year, becoming a pediatrician, clinician (known for his work on the genetic disease phenylketonuria) and celebrated artist—a slideshow of his evocative paintings formed the backdrop of the lecture. He also wrote four well-received books.
His responses to questions from the moderators and audience shed light on a philosophy forged in optimism but tempered by realism. He admitted, for instance, that the Holocaust had shattered his faith in God, but that he still lived his life according to the moral dictates of Judaism. And he spoke about the things he values most, among them compassion, humor, and—surprisingly—suffering, which he said “made me realize that everything of life is a gift.”