When Fred Gross took the stage last month for A Night of Remembrance and Understanding at The State Theater in Elizabethtown, he did so with a smile.
It was a genuine smile. One that told the audience there to hear him that he was happy to see them. And although he didn’t know them, the smile radiated a love he holds for them.
The love the 82-year-old Jewish Louisville resident emitted was a stark contrast from some of the horrors he experienced as a child in Nazi-occupied France in the late 1930s and early ’40s.
At age 3, his family fled Belgium as it was being invaded by Adolph Hitler’s army. The family survived narrow misses to escape over the course of a few years as they traversed France’s outer border looking for a place to take refuge, to hide and to try and live.
He told the audience of his mother laying on top of him while planes dropped bombs around them and the nightmares that followed. He told of trauma he experienced from abuse at the hands of a foster family while he was separated from his parents. He shared how his father’s gambling addiction prevented the family from being able to afford a car, so their journey was made mostly on foot.
But he also described how luck and kindness saved the family from capture on more than one occasion. That without the help from Catholic nuns, a village mayor, a sympathetic farmer and a friendly Italian, he and his family wouldn’t have survived.
Gross also shared family photos from the time they were on the run. Photos that his mother must have valued so much that with each move, with each escape, she took them with her.
His story was raw. It was honest. It was painful. It was inspiring. It was filled with love and hope. It was a story that needed to be shared, needed to be heard.
And thanks to the Marvin and Joyce Benjamin Fund of Central Kentucky Community Foundation, the community was able to hear Gross’ story and learn from his experiences.
Through a $2 million gift the Benjamins left, the fund strives to foster kindness, understanding and inclusiveness among the diverse people who call our community home. The purpose of the fund is to fight hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism.
Gross’ story was filled with examples of how regular people can do something – even if it seems small – to fight oppression and hatred. It was the perfect message for what the Benjamins desired for the community.
And this community was fortunate to have them call it home. The couple moved here in the 1950s and owned and operated Melody Music in Elizabethtown for decades. Had they chosen to live anywhere else, had they had passion for another community, the more than 450 people who heard and were touched by Gross’ words would not have had that experience.
The fund also paid for the presentation of Never Again: Murals of the Holocaust, a six-week exhibit at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College. Not only did the fund bring in the murals to be on exhibit, but it also provided the necessary money for Hardin County and Elizabethtown Independent school districts’ students to experience them and for curriculum to be provided for their teachers.
Just like the murals and Gross’ stories, the Benjamins’ legacy also is inspirational.
Through this one couple’s gift to the community in the form of an endowment fund at Central Kentucky Community Foundation, their message of inclusion, diversity and kindness can live forever.