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My parents survived the Holocaust. They gave us 5 lessons on living well

OpinionMy parents survived the Holocaust. They gave us 5 lessons on living well

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While standing at the gates of the infamous Auschwitz death camp, listening to my father’s “Symphony of the Holocaust” in 2023, my connection to my parents was never stronger. It was a time of reflection and pause about my childhood and the lessons learned from my heroes. 

My parents, Shony Alex Braun and Shari Mendelovits were both Holocaust survivors, who experienced some of humanity’s most horrific atrocities. At Auschwitz, my father was ordered to carry the dead bodies to the crematorium. My mother sadly went through the unthinkable as a woman. Both suffered extensive injuries and insurmountable loss. 

My father was a child violin prodigy, who began to play at 4 years old. But his future as a musician was interrupted at the young age of 13 when he was taken with his family by the Nazis to the infamous Auschwitz death camp. After being separated from his mother and younger sister at the gates, he learned they were tragically murdered in the camp’s gas chamber.  

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Remarkably, my dad, his brother and father survived Auschwitz, and were later sent to camps in Germany, France and finally to Dachau, where my father survived by playing violin for the Nazis. Sadly, his father and brother were brutally murdered along the way.  

The documentary

The new ‘Symphony of the Holocaust’ documentary features the life and triumphs of child violin prodigy Shony Alex Braun, who miraculously survived four concentration camps, and then became a world-renowned violinist and composer.

Miraculously, dad survived four concentration camps, and met my mother in a military hospital, where they were both being treated for various ailments. Terribly ill and recovering from a gunshot wound, my father begged doctors for a violin, which he used to soothe himself and others around the hospital.  

One day, my mother, who also survived Auschwitz, heard my father playing and asked her roommate, “Who is playing that beautiful music?” When she tracked down my father, it was love at first sight. 

After moving to Los Angeles, my father became a world-renowned concert violinist and composer. My mother was a confident, powerful force, who managed my father’s successful music career that included writing 200-plus melodies and live performances for kings, queens and President Ronald Reagan with “Bridges For Peace” at The White House.   

But his masterwork was his “Symphony of the Holocaust.” As a way to survive, dad composed it in his head while in the death camps. His 15-minute “Symphony of the Holocaust” would later be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in music.  

Child violin prodigy and Holocaust Survivor Shony Alex Braun’s family fulfilled his final wish to have his

Child violin prodigy and Holocaust survivor Shony Alex Braun’s family fulfilled his final wish to have his ‘Symphony of the Holocaust’ played at Auschwitz gates in the new documentary.

In the new feature documentary, “Symphony of the Holocaust” (Sunn Stream “Original”), my family made a bittersweet journey to find my father’s prized violin, and to fulfill his final wish — to have his symphony played at Auschwitz.  

And as a perfect tribute to my parents, who somehow learned to forgive and to embrace all people, Armenian violin prodigy Erik Ghukasyan played my father’s symphony for our family. Dad’s hope was to bring beauty to a place where so many families lost loved ones.   

I was always in awe of how my parents were so “normal” and able to accomplish so much after everything they went through. My parents were my greatest teachers who led by example. Here are five lessons I learned from them: 

1. Kindness 

My parents embraced everyone with hugs and kisses. Anyone who met them would say, “Your parents are incredible. They are so warm, kind, and loving.” My dad was charming and possessed a wonderful sense of humor, but above all, he was humble.  

Shony Alex Braun with his wife Shari and daughter Dinah Braun Griffin, whose hopeful story is featured in the new

Shony Alex Braun with his wife Shari and daughter Dinah Braun Griffin, whose hopeful story is featured in the new ‘Symphony of the Holocaust’ documentary.

2. Acceptance 

I learned to accept others without judgment. My parents were open to everyone they met, whether it was a stranger or an old friend. That was the standard of respect that I witnessed from them without fail. We had friends from all walks of life. Everybody was welcome in our home and treated as equals. My dad always said, “everyone bleeds the same.”

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3. Generosity  

My parents were very generous in spirit. They taught us the importance of giving back to others. Even though my father had a full schedule performing, he always donated time to play for the Cancer Society, American Heart Association and other fundraisers. My mom frequently took me to these charity events … something I’ll never forget.  

4. Love and Light 

Despite the unspeakable atrocities of World War II, our home was filled with love and light. My parents gave us a better life than they had, and instilled in us that family means everything. My father and brother Bobby were most connected through music. Bobby often played piano in accompaniment with dad. Music was part of our everyday lives. Friends and family frequently visited our home, and it was always a joyous time. Often, my dad would give an impromptu violin “concert” for his guests.  

Child violin prodigy and Holocaust Survivor Shony Alex Braun miraculously survived 4 concentration camps and wrote a symphony about his experience.

Child violin prodigy and Holocaust survivor Shony Alex Braun miraculously survived four concentration camps and wrote a symphony about his experience.

5. Forgiveness 

My parents never spoke about the horrors they lived through during the Holocaust. They didn’t want their burden to impact their children. Instead, they practiced love, kindness and forgiveness. They were my heroes for keeping all their sorrows inside, protecting us so we had the chances they never did for a kinder, gentler life.   

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During the pandemic, we doubted that this special film would ever be made. I am so grateful that my parent’s hopeful messages are now highlighted in the new “Symphony of the Holocaust” documentary. The world premiere was held on January 27, 2024, at the Jewish Nevada Film Festival, in sync with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Anyone can watch this loving documentary now exclusively on SunnStream.com’s streaming service to learn more about my father’s triumph over hate through his music. 

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