Thomas F. O'Neill
(This story is dedicated to my
Thomas F. O’Neill, who passed
There were significant moments in Rabbi,
Shuman’s life that profoundly changed him -
in ways that are beyond comprehension. They
could be described as spiritual unexplained
encounters that have made him highly
receptive to life’s synchronicities. Those
same moments have become truly meaningful
for him but to fully understand Rabbi,
Shuman you have to know his story.
His earliest memories were of his parents
taking him to his grandmother’s home. His
grandmother had an old antique music box
that he would wind up. Inside the box were
small figurines of a man and women sitting
at a piano. He can remember listening to the
music in his grandmother’s living room and
the smile the music would bring to her face.
Those childhood memories are always with him
because those memories represent the love
his grandmother had for him and in many ways
that love is still with him.
It is said that we are the sum-total of
all our experiences so in order to
understand Albert Shuman the man you have to
understand what he endured as a child. When
he was a young boy his family lived in
Germany and on his ninth birthday the Nazis
gathered up his family and moved them into a
Jewish Ghetto. The Jews were eventually
packed like cattle into train boxcars and
sent to various concentration camps. He
still can remember the heat and stench
inside the boxcar. He was only nine years
old and very frightened from being separated
from his family. He was too young to
comprehend what was happening to him and the
On numerous occasions he spoke about the
day he turned eleven years old. It was his
second year inside that Nazi concentration
camp. He was cold, hungry, and scared and he
didn’t know whether his family members were
alive or dead. He was living there with the
walking dead, the living skeletons, the skin
and bones of the malnourished. Those are
just some of his recollections of that
nightmarish existence at the hands of the
Nazi’s, the so called master race.
Hungry, weak, and detached from all
emotion he got the nerve on that particular
birthday to walk over to the barbed wire
fence. He witnessed many being shot on that
fence and for some it was a means of
suicide. “If you do not want to go on being
starved, climb the fence,” he thought to
himself, “let the Nazi guards shoot you.” It
was at that moment when those thoughts were
racing through his head that he heard the
voice of a young girl.
“Do you want my apple?” she asked him in
German. She quickly tossed it over the
fence. He grabbed it and began eating it
when the Nazi guard walked over and whacked
him with the butt of his gun.
“Get away from here” the guard yelled at
the young girl. Frightened, she turned and
ran up a large hill to a farmhouse a mile
away from the camp.
“Stay away from there!!!” the girl’s
mother said to her in a stern voice.
“Mother, what did those people do?”
“It doesn’t concern us,” her mother
“Stay away from there!!!!”
“There is this young boy there,” she said
to her Mother with tears in her eyes. “He
looks so sad, so hungry. What could he have
done to be treated that way? When I gave him
my apple the solder hit him just because he
took it,” she said with tears rolling down
her face, “those solders are mean.”
“That doesn’t concern us,” she yelled
once again at her daughter, “they are there
for a reason.”
She then grabbed her daughter’s arm and
said, “It doesn’t concern you.”
Everyday young Albert Shuman walked over
to the fence and each day the young girl
threw an apple to him. He looked at her face
through the fence so that he would never
forget that young girl’s kindness.
“Someday I will be free from here,” he
yelled to her, “don’t worry I will be free
from here you will see.” A Nazi guard
whacked him with the butt of his rifle.
“Get away from the fence, rodent,” the
guard said to him in German. He then smacked
young Albert once again with his gun.
“Get away from here if you know what is
good of you” the guard yelled to the young
When the young girl's mother saw her
daughter returning home crying, she
frantically slapped her across the face,
“You stubborn, stubborn child, what do I
need to do to keep you from going there?”
Her mother’s primary concern was simply to
keep her and her daughter safe from harm.
Her husband and two sons were fighting the
Russians on the eastern-front. She didn’t
know whether she would ever see them again.
When Albert Shuman was thirteen the
Russians moved into East Germany they moved
fast and were fierce fighters. The Nazis
guards did not have enough time to burn the
bodies of the dead. Some of them out of fear
of the Russians tried to pass themselves off
as Jewish survivors but what set them apart
from the others was their well nourished
frame. They were quickly rounded up and
Albert witnessed some of them being executed
on the spot. He wasn’t pleased or shocked by
the contempt the Russians had for the Nazis,
“getting shot through the head seems much
more merciful,” he thought to himself, “than
being starved to death.”
The young Russian solders gave Albert and
the other survivor’s food and when one of
the solders had an apple in his hand. He saw
young Albert staring at it, the solder out
of compassion handed it to him. Albert
unable to speak their language pointed in
the direction of where he saw the young girl
run each day.
The solder out of curiosity placed
Albert’s frail and weak body in a Jeep and
drove him to the farmhouse. When they
arrived no one was there so Albert took a
pen out of the solders shirt pocket and
motioned for a piece of paper. Albert wrote
“thank you” in German on the paper and
placed it with the Apple on the young girl’s
He was the only one in his immediate
family that survived those insane
nightmarish years. The numbers the Nazi
tattooed on Albert's arm when he was a child
are now a permanent reminder of what he
He eventually was sent to live with
distant relatives in America. It was in
America that he struggled to find meaning
and purpose in his life. He searched for
answers as to why he was one of the
survivors. The image of the young girl’s
face kept retuning to his dreams at night.
Her face instilled in him a determination to
live so that one day he could return that
kindness. If he could not return the
kindness to her then perhaps to another
person in need.
When he turned seventeen he enrolled in a
rabbinical school and eight years later he
became a Rabbi. He wanted others to
understand the strength of the human spirit
and how the little kind actions of a young
girl gave him the strength to survive the
Over the years he became a scholar, a
teacher, a lecturer but something was
terribly lacking in his life. His
intellectual pursuits to unravel the meaning
and purpose of life could not be achieved by
reason alone. He needed answers not just for
the peace of mind but to overcome his
loneliness. He continuously thought about
the young girl in Germany who overcame her
fear so that she could reach out to him from
the other side of the barbed wire fence. He
often wondered what ever became of her.
* * * * * * *
He was living in New York as a Rabbi in
the summer of 1960 when he was invited to
give a lecture in Baltimore, Maryland. He
decided to travel by train rather than drive
there alone. He has always enjoyed engaging
people in conversation but mostly he enjoys
meeting new people and listening to their
stories. When he sat down in his seat he
noticed a woman that looked so familiar to
him, though he could not quite place her.
Something inside of him compelled him to sit
down across from her on the train.
He was thrilled when he learned that she
was from Germany and they conversed in their
native language. He was also a bit amused
that she was traveling to hear a lecture at
the same symposium where he was lecturing.
“Are you Jewish?” he asked her.
“No,” she said in a melancholy tone.
“Then why are you so glum?” he asked in
an amusing way trying to lighten her mood.
“I am going to the symposium because one
of the lecturers was in a concentration camp
near the farmhouse I lived in as a little
girl,” she said to him.
She began to tell him her story of what
she witnessed just a mile from where she
lived. She then told him about the face of
the young Jewish boy in the Nazi
concentration camp. “I wish I knew what
happened to him,” she said as a tear rolled
down her face.
“He is fine,” he said while emotionally
moved. It was then that the tears welled up
in his eyes.
“How could you possibly know that?” she
“Don’t you remember?” he said to her, “I
told you I will live. When I got rescued by
the Russians I put an apple on your porch.”
She looked at him astonished by his
words. “When the Russians came,” she said,
“we fled our farmhouse because we didn’t
know what was going to happen. My father and
two brothers were killed at the
eastern-front fighting the Russians”
She then looked into his eyes, “You put
an apple on my porch,” she asked.
“I wanted to let you know that I was all
right,” he said.
“I thought about you all the time,” she
said as she wiped the tears from her face.
“And I, you,” he said.
“I never learned your name,” she said.
“Albert,” came the reply.
“Anna,” she said, “my name is Anna.”
After the lecture he knocked on her hotel
room door and when she opened it he handed
her an Apple, “I don’t want to lose you
again, Anna” he said with deep sincerity
that could melt the heart of any woman. He
learned that she came to America as an
exchange student and remained in America.
She became a teacher of history at a high
school just a few miles from where he was
They soon married but their story doesn’t
end here. In 1968 when Albert’s wife
received a letter from her Mother in Germany
stating that Anna’s Grandmother’s sister is
living in a small town in Pennsylvania.
“I would like to go to Pennsylvania and
see my Great-Aunt in person, Albert,” she
said to him.
“Can’t you just pick up the phone and
call her,” Albert asked her.
“Let’s surprise her,” she said
“I don’t even know her,” he replied
Anna got her way, and they drove three
hours from New York to that small town in
Pennsylvania. When they arrived at the
address that was given to Anna by her
mother, no one was there.
“No one lived in that house in 20 years,”
a man said to them from across the street.
Albert then told Anna, “if we leave now
we could get back to New York for a late
When Albert and Anna were heading back
home they stopped at a red light on the Main
Street in that small Pennsylvania town. Anna
then noticed a small antique store.
“Let’s stop in there,” she said.
When they were looking around the shop
Anna noticed an old music box. Albert in
another part of the store was looking at an
antique pocket watch. Anna then wound up the
music box and they both heard the music.
Albert at that moment walked over to Anna
and he noticed the small figurines inside
the music box of a man and woman sitting at
“That looks like the music box my
grandmother owned,” he said to Anna.
“Where did you get it” he asked the
“Not sure exactly,” came the reply, “it
was made in Germany though many years ago.”
“My Grandmother owned one just like
this,” he told the owner.
“The bottom drawer in the music box is
locked” Anna said to the shop owner, “do you
have the key.”
“I don’t have the key but the lock is not
that complicated,” he said to her.
The owner walked over to the counter and
came back with a small lock pick and opened
the bottom drawer in the music box. Inside
the drawer was a letter. Anna, surprised at
seeing the letter, began to read it.
“It is written in German” she said to
Albert, “and it is dated March 16,
“My Name is Anna Shuman,” she said out loud
as she began reading.
“That was my Grandmother’s Name,” Albert
told his wife, “she had the same name as
She then continued reading,
“My Name is Anna Shuman” she repeated, “and
this is my music box it has been in my
family for many, many years. If anything
should happen to me I want my Grandson
Albert Shuman to have it.
If by chance you should read this letter,
Albert, I want you to know that I love you
very much and I will always love you. Your
happiness means more to me than life itself.
Albert’s face beamed with emotion and he
was unable to hold back his tears, “how much
do you want for the music box?” he asked the
“Look I don’t speak German so I don’t
know what that letter said,” the shop owner
said to them.
Anna translated the letter to the store
owner in one simple sentence, “This is his
Grandmother’s music box.”
“How much do you want for it?” he
repeated, “I will give you whatever you
“Look just take the music box,” the owner
said, “it’s yours.”
“How did you come to getting this music
box in your shop?” he asked the owner once
“I have to go down to the basement and
look at the inventory records,” the shop
owner said, “it has been here for quite
When the owner returned a short time
later he told them, “it was owned by a woman
named Olga Hager. I think it was her son
that sold it to me. If I recall correctly I
think Mrs. Hager is in the Manner Nursing
“She’s my Grandmother’s sister,” Anna
said to Albert, “that is who we came to
They learned from Olga that her son was
in the German army during the war. The Nazis
confiscated most of the Jewish families’
belongings in Germany and somehow Olga’s son
came in possession of Albert’s Grandmother’s
music box. He gave the music box and some of
the other Jewish families belongings to
Olga. When the war ended, she and her son,
left Germany and they brought the music box
and various other items to America with
them. Years later when Olga was placed in a
Nursing Home her son sold the music box and
some of her other belongings to the antique
dealer. On hearing this from Olga - Albert
then realized that the Pocket watch he was
looking at in the antique shop was his
On their way back to New York Anna turned
to Albert who was driving and said to him.
“The letter in the music box is dated March
16, 1939. We were married on March 16, in
“In someway I believe my Grandmamma Anna
was determined that I get her music box
because she knew how much I loved to play
with it as a child,” he then said, “it was
her way of saying she never stopped loving
Rabbi, Shuman has continued over the
years to tell his story at lecture Hall’s
and to the average person on the street. The
events that occurred in his childhood are
heart-wrenchingly painful and those events
have become a part of who he is as a person.
He and Anna have overcome the darkness and
pain of the Nazi regime by becoming each
Some people would say that the
synchronicity within Anna and Albert’s life
is nothing more then mere coincidences. Anna
and Albert on the other hand find great
comfort in knowing that there is a much
deeper dimension to life than coincidences.
* * * * * *
Albert stood up from his chair on March
16, 2006 at a dinner hall as his wife sat
next to him. It was a very special occasion
for them. He stood before a crowd of
approximately two-hundred people and thanked
them for being there to celebrate their
forty-fifth wedding adversary. Their three
daughters, two sons, and ten grandchildren,
were also there to celebrate this
“All of you know how Anna and I met,”
Albert said to them. “You all heard the
story many times before so you can relax now
because I will not lecture you on our story.
If you notice, however, all of you have an
apple on your plate. I know, I know,” he
repeated, “I wasn’t that fond of apples
either, but because of Anna I grew more fond
of them. Don’t worry though we have plenty
of other food. You won’t leave here hungry,
I can promise you that” he said to them as
the audience laughed.
“I hope I haven’t offended anyone with
the apples it wasn’t meant as an insult,” he
said. “I have been told my humor is not
always politically correct. I suppose that
is why I would never make a good politician.
I would always be cracking jokes about the
current politics,” he said as the audience
laughed because they knew their local
Senator was sitting in the room.
“As you already know,” he added, “I love
to tell the story of how Anna came back into
my life here in America - on a train. We
came together again in the land of the free
and the land of the brave as that popular
He then said, “it doesn’t seem that long
ago when I was forever separated from my
family when I was shoved and packed into a
train’s boxcar in Germany. I was sent to one
of those concentration camps as a young boy
– by train. Like thousands of others I was
sent there. That is were I met my Anna but
we to became separated and lost for a time.
We were like two corks in the ocean and it
seemed as if we were riding each wave on a
random destiny. I soon learned though our
destiny was set forth by the spirit of our
love. We were bound by our soul’s desire
because years later when I needed her once
again she came back to me to show me how to
love.” The audience was silent and they were
glued to his every word.
“We came together today,” he said, “so
that we could share this moment with our
immediate family and with all of you as our
extended family. We are all family because
we all love and respect one another.” He
became visibly emotional and Anna who was
sitting next to him reached over and held
his hand. He then picked up a glass of wine
and took a drink.
The room was quiet as they waited for him
to continue speaking. “To some the Nazi
regime is ancient history but there are
still some who have witnessed the inhumanity
and lived. I hope we can learn from what we
witnessed so that succeeding generations can
never repeat those atrocities. When I came
to America before Anna came back into my
life, my mind was filled with the chatter of
explanations of why and how I should live my
life. It wasn’t until I quieted the chatter,
I heard the small still whisper of the soul.
It guided me and put me in synch with my
soul’s desire which is to love and to be
He then said to the audience, “It has
taken me many, many years to figure out that
in order to find contentment in life you
must first quiet your mind. The mind can
become filled with the insignificant matters
of life. I was ignoring my heart - never
ignore your heart. The heart can put you on
the right path - life without love is a
You must find the love within you first
before you can share that love with others.
Don’t wait for others to love you first
because you cannot discover love until you
begin to love. Then and only then will you
find the true synchronicities of life. I
have found - when you reach out and care for
the welfare of others, others will reach out
and care for you. We are never alone in the
world. I discovered that through the small
acts of kindness from a young girl who threw
apples to me, every day, like clock work,
over a barbed wire fence” he said with a
He then looked down at Anna, “Our hearts
and souls are always intertwined and
synchronized with the hearts and souls of
our significant others. We are here now
sharing our life’s journey - a journey of
discovery and wonder. We are sharing this
world in order to love and to be loved.”
He then looked over at his children and
grandchildren, “I hope my children and
grandchildren learn to put aside the
insignificant matters and let their heart
and soul reveal to them the true beauty in
life,” he said as tears welled up in his
“Albert, let them eat now,” Anna said.
“Thank you,” he said to his family and
guests while laughing, “thank you,” he
repeated with a big enthusiastic smile on
his face, “I am grateful for all of you for
being a part of my life and may love always
be a significant part of your lives.”
Thomas F. O’Neill
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Other articles and commentaries by Thomas F.
O'Neill can be found at the links below.