This I Believe

Matthew - Quogue, New York
Entered on January 29, 2007

The definition for the word hero is often misconstrued. In my opinion a hero is one who stands up for what they truly believe to be right, even though there may be consequences and repercussions. They must do so while displaying confidence and courage. This is what distinguishes heroes from ordinary people. Many a time the word “hero” is echoed on the news. My hero never made the newspaper headlines or the television. He never received any medals of honor or spoke with the president; he simply did what was expected of him during a time of dire need. There were many instances where he exceeded those expectations. I am fortunate to say that my hero is my grandfather.

My grandfather was a surgeon for Poland during World War II. He served during one of the world’s darkest chapters, the Holocaust. Hugo Bonom was born in the relatively large town of Strjy. At a young age he knew what he wanted to do in life. He was one of the most intelligent students at the local school. He left his hometown to pursue his dream. He traveled Europe studying at the world’s finest medical schools. He attended the Sorbonne in Paris where he lived for a few years. He then studied medicine in Italy. Eventually after his education was complete he had mastered seven languages. Many find it difficult to learn a second language. Seven is beyond my comprehension. These languages included Polish, French, Italian, English, Russian, German, and Yiddish. When he returned to Poland he met the love of his life. Anna Hammer was born in a neighboring town of Stryj. When they met they instantly knew they were meant for each other. Like my grandfather she too was intelligent and fluent in several languages. By the time the war broke out, many of there family members had been brutally murdered by the Nazis. My grandfather then answered his nations call for surgeons in the army and was forced to leave his family and wife at home. During the war is when he truly started to believe in a higher power. His horse was shot from under him, and nurses were killed directly next to him. He then knew he would survive the war and reunite with his beloved wife. At one point he was captured by the Germans and sent to a Prisoner of War camp. His life was spared for he was of use to the Germans and because he used some trickery. He told the Germans that he was a French citizen who of course was not Jewish. Luckily his last name, Bonom, was in fact French sounding and showed no signs of being Jewish. The Germans were in need of surgeons to operate on high ranking prisoners. He eventually escaped and established a field hospital with fellow escapees in the woods of Russia. There he saved hundreds of lives and survived the remainder of the war. All this time he had no idea whether or not his wife and family had survived the war. When he returned to Poland he discovered some grim news. Both his parents and his brother were killed. At the same time he was so fortunate to find that his wife had survived. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and posed as a gentile with a Christian family. My grandfather was fortunate enough to successfully survive the Holocaust. His bravery did not end there. Later he moved to Austria and had my mother. He soon moved to America for the welfare of his family. He is now ninety seven and lives in New York. Besides surviving the war he had open heart surgery at 86, lived with shingles, and had a knee replacement due to a soccer injury when he was young. This can truly show his mental and physical toughness. I only hope that I can exhibit some of the qualities that he possessed.

My grandfather never ceased fighting for what he knew to be right. He survived a horrific period in history in which many were not as fortunate as him. He did so through determination, persistence, and bravery. This is what makes my grandfather, Hugo Bonom, a true hero.