Heroes With Solid Feet by Kirk Douglas

Heroes With Solid Feet

by Kirk Douglas

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Recently, I journeyed to Berlin to accept the Golden Bear, a lifetime achievement award, from the Berlin Film Festival. Those awards make me smile — lifetime achievement? Is this the end? Not long ago my son Michael received a lifetime achievement award. If you last long enough, you may get dozens.

I accepted the Golden Bear because I was curious to see Berlin again. During my earlier visits there, the city had been divided by a wall.

In a press conference at the film festival, one journalist asked loudly, “As a Jew, how does it affect you to be in Berlin?” A montage of pictures we have all seen raced through my mind. Shattering glass windows, Hitler salutes, Jews being herded into freight cars, piles of emaciated Jews, ovens, dark smoke coming out of chimneys.

“The last century has been a disaster,” I said. “My generation did not do a good job — so many wars, so much killing and of course, here in Germany, the Holocaust, perhaps the worst crime of all, the attempt to annihilate a people as a final solution.”

They were all listening.

“But I don’t think children should be punished for the sins of their fathers. We should do all we can to give our children that chance.”

The questioner persisted. “So why did you come back to Berlin?” I ignored him. But the question bothered me. I didn’t know a proper reason for a Jew to be in Berlin.

The audience at the awards ceremony gave me a standing ovation when I gave my speech in German, a language I learned when I made two movies in Germany. The papers were filled with my smiling face. The television reports were very complimentary. That night my wife and I had a wonderful Wiener schnitzel with some friends and a Jewish friend of theirs, Inge Borck, who lived in Berlin throughout the war. She was such a happy person, smiling and laughing. But when I was told that her parents and grandparents had all been killed in the concentration camps, I blurted out, “So why do you stay in Berlin?”

Smiling, she gave me this answer: “I owe that to the little heroes.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. With a sigh, she came over and sat closer.

“When the Gestapo came to get them, my parents sent me to a small hotel to save my life. The owner was the first little hero. She kept me safe for a couple of nights. When it became dangerous, I met my second little hero. Or should I say heroine? She was our former housekeeper. She hid me for a while and endangered her own life. Then I lived in a cloister. My little heroes were the nuns who took care of me when I was very sick. They never asked questions. When the situation became dangerous, my next little hero was a policeman who didn’t agree with the Nazis. All through the war, I was lucky to find little heroes who helped me till the Russians came in.”

“So, why do you stay here?” I asked again. She looked at my perplexed face and said, “I thought about it, but I feel I owe it to the little heroes who helped me. Not everyone here was wicked.”

Her story had a great impact on me. Of course, we are always looking for a big hero to emulate, and very often we see them topple from clay feet. How much better to reach for the little heroes in life — and to try to be one. It’s not always as hard as it was for the people in wartime Berlin. You aren’t obligated to save a life — you only need to try to help other people.

And if everyone tried — well, just think of the lifetime achievements.

find the cost of your paper