CLEARWATER — William Hauben, like other Holocaust survivors, saw monstrous things during the war. His parents and brother were murdered and he experienced unspeakable cruelty during his five years in four different concentration camps.
But this is not the memory that he shares with others. His message is about the humanity and courage of the people who helped the Jews before, during and after the war.
It's about "honoring people that did the right thing during the Shoa (Holocaust)," said his son, Sheldon Hauben of Tampa.
While William Hauben, 89, is known mostly for his two decades as cantor at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Tampa, he has spent the past few years making trips to Washington, D.C., to visit the ambassadors of countries he says "put themselves on the line" to assist the Jews.
"This is the reason I survive," Hauben said — to serve as a "living testimonial," not just a survivor.
"God sent me to speak to ambassadors," Hauben said last week during a presentation at Temple B'nai Israel in Clearwater.
The countries Hauben credits include Portugal, Sweden, Australia, Albania, Bulgaria, Denmark, China, Finland and Norway, in addition to the United States and Israel.
Through a thick Polish accent, Hauben marveled at the "miracle of his survival" after being shot and "chopped to pieces" during the war.
He also spoke of his relationship with famed concentration camp survivor, Pulitzer-prize winning author and activist Eli Wiesel.
Hauben is the author of Light: Courage and Hope. The book's title is a reaction to Wiesel's well-known book Night, which details the atrocities of the war. Hauben said he wanted to talk about the positive things, the light, not the darkness.
Hauben's previous book is titled, From the Flames: The Miracles and Wonder of Survival.
In January, Hauben went to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony at the Embassy of Israel for the ambassadors and dignitaries of the countries that were honored. A slide show of the event showed the dignitaries mingling, shaking hands and meeting Hauben and the person he calls his "right-hand man," Bill Stefekar.
Stefekar, 65, retired from Hillsborough County government as a city planner and was a producer of B'nai Brith Presents Jewish Life in Tampa Bay on public access television. He said the stories he's heard from Hauben during the three years they have worked together are "beyond comprehension."
"I think this is what we want people to go away with: Where do we go from here?" Stefekar said. "The book talks about the most noteworthy of human virtues. … There's so many people that are fighting against intolerance and genocide, and we have to acknowledge them."
One person recognized posthumously at the Washington event was Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress. He was chairman of the foreign affairs committee and made a trip to Tampa to speak at Hauben's synagogue in 1982. Hauben's son Sheldon, now an attorney, had served as an aide in Lantos' office and presented a plaque to Lantos' wife.
"As there is a God in heaven, life comes full circle," Sheldon Hauben said after showing pictures of himself and his father with the late congressman.
While Hauben "withstood all the worst that life has to offer," Stefekar said, he and his book are showing the goodness, serving as a torch for the next generation.
"I am going to be a living witness," Hauben said. "Not of how many people were killed, of how many people were saved."