My parents Sam and Annie Goldberg
They taught me to respect people whatever their background, race, religion, social class, and that a just society needs activists to make it happen. There was no subject or topic that i could not ask about.
Miss Cook, my first school teacher
She taught me to reject bias and prejudice and the injustice that inevitably follows such attitudes
I was a boy during the Second World War
I was a voracious reader of newspapers and books. My heroes were the brave resistance fighters against the Nazi German, Italian fascist, Japanese Militarist occupiers of their respective land. The loyalists and the International brigade volunteers against the Franco fascists in Spain, the partigiani in Italy, the maquis in France, the guerilla fighters of Russia and eastern Europe for whom freedom was more important than their own lives; and of course the internal resistance within Nazi Germany. I knew then that if a time came when an unjust tyrannical regime developed in my homeland I would have to try to emulate these heroic people.
I joke that I have been twice blessed
The first time when Moses Kotane the General Secretary of the CPSA ruffled my hair when I was 10 years old in 1943 and told me I was a fine young comrade because I had addressed envelopes for an election campaign. And later that same year when Bishop Lavis of the Anglican church ruffled my hair and blessed me for writing envelopes for one of his appeals.
Nelson Mandela and Oliver Reginald Tambo
Two great people who were also my friends and comrades and leaders: leaders of such calibre that we were prepared to follow them to the ends of the earth – and beyond. Not because they were populist rabble rousers, but because they were thoughtful, committed leaders who had a great thought, a vision, and with dignified, consistent readiness to find the necessary strategies and tactics they were ready to sacrifice their lives for that vision: a vision of freedom from racial oppression by law in the land of their birth, South Africa; a vision of freedom from want, and respect for the dignity of all people – for without dignity, we are all denied our essential humanity.
Our defence counsel in the Rivonia Trial was an inspirational figure. He constantly juggled his commitment to freedom and justice for all with his professional role as officer of the court of the tyrannical apartheid regime. In the end his commitment to freedom led him to be sentenced to life imprisonment. He was a person of great fortitude and dignity. He did not survive prison.
In later years I came across three expressions of what I came passionately to believe in.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the holocaust and on being freed from Auschwitz wrote his book, Man’s search for meaning (of life, added). His experience taught him that those who find meaning in service to others are the most complete beings and survive hardships longer than those who believe that their lives have no meaning.
Nikolai Ostrowski’s eulogy for a communist comrade in his 1930s novel, How the steel was tempered, could have been written for Bram, and for many other of my comrades in the fight against the apartheid crime against humanity:
“Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that dying he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world – the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.”
The progressive Liberal American Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “When we were young our hearts were touched with fire.” ….. and …. “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time, at the peril of being judged not to have lived.”
We who believe that the real meaning of life is to achieve freedom and justice for all have indeed lived!