Video: Love in the Shadow of the Third Reich

Susan Kweskin

"Before him stood a doctor, himself a Jewish prisoner, who ministered to the other prisoners. 'I will die here,' my father said to the older man. 'One of us will, but it will be me,' said the physician. 'I do not have any way to treat you, but you are young. If you don't give up hope, you will survive.'"

So begins Harold Bursztajn's Reflections on My Father's Experience with Doctors During the Shoah (1939-1945). [1] Dr. Bursztajn's memoir, published in The Journal of Clinical Ethics, was occasioned by a 3-hour filmed interview of his father Abraham Bursztajn, conducted by Dr. Mark Weisstuch on behalf of the Steven Spielberg Foundation. In that essay, Dr. Bursztajn focused on 2 physicians who worked under unimaginable conditions with very limited resources but who were able to "comfort and even promote hope and healing."

In another filmed interview--this one conducted in 2011 with Psychiatric Times--Dr. Bursztajn recounts the story of his parents' survival of the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto . . . how they met, fell in love, married--and survived where nearly 200,000 others perished. Ultimately, this is a story in which courage and love triumphed over evil. The filmed interview can now be viewed at We invite you to watch.


  1. Bursztajn H. J Clin Ethics. 2006;7:311-314.

by Harold J. Bursztajn, MD

I was 9 years old in December 1959 when I left and 60 in July 2011 when I returned to Lodz, Poland. My return—a journey through time as well as space—was a continuation of a trip from my home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I teach and practice clinical and forensic psychiatry, to Berlin, where I gave a number of presentations at a conference of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health).

One presentation included my parents’ experiences with health care in the Lodz ghetto during the Shoah (the Holocaust, 1939-1945). The reception from colleagues at the conference and from the wider Berlin community at an accompanying presentation at the “old new Jewish synagogue” was heartening and somewhat overwhelming.

Being so close to where my parents had survived, and where I was born, meant wanting to experience and learn more, even with the attendant pain. There was also the opportunity to contribute to public education, as my friend, the distinguished television documentary producer Anthony Geffen of Atlantic Productions, had generously offered to send along a cameraman to record my journey. All in all, my desire to return to Lodz felt stronger then ever, and the accompanying fears I felt were worth facing, as I embarked the train in Berlin heading for Poland.

Some of what I learned on my visit, along with its value for psychiatrists and the people we treat, is described in the interview which you will see. In a context of painful history, it is a story of empathy and trust, adaptation and resilience—qualities we seek to engage as we help people who may feel helpless against long odds recover the capacity to love and work.