By Niki Glanz, Ed.D.

We’re certainly facing an abundance of odds; we know them all too well. No need to recite them here. Instead, better to focus on the difficult but heroic tasks needed to conquer Covid-19. Since national leaders tell us – and it feels like – “we’re at war,” let’s enhance our creativity by reviewing tactics employed by a real-life “Bourne” we’ll call “Rolf,” in homage to his Slovakian roots.

Mercifully, Rolf had a kind and loving mother who taught him elementary reading and math. Otherwise his childhood was anything but normal. His father forced him “to kneel on a sharp piece of wood” beginning at age 5 for “any disobedience” and compelled him to walk through forests “in total darkness, no water allowed” to overcome any fear of “wild boars, bears, or other animals and build a strong will.” Instructors at a boy’s boarding school slapped his face “almost daily” for errors in reading. Once World War II began, Rolf’s nights were filled with sirens warning of American bombers overhead and German missiles shooting back. Dead soldiers and mass graves for as many as 400 surrounded him.

When the Soviet army invaded Slovakia and defeated the Germans, Rolf was just 18. He was accused by Russian authorities of “espionage – death penalty.” The nation’s soccer coach, who shared his jail cell, taught Rolf essential strategies: “You cannot admit anything. They’ll torture you for 7 days. If you confess, you’ll be hung as a spy [or] you’ll go to Soviet uranium mines and die of radiation.” Rolf lost 3 teeth but held on, enabling him to contact 2 jailed accomplices “about what he was going to tell the court,” as the coach suggested. To one he sent a message “as a pill” rolled and pushed into a piece of bread; the other he “telephoned through the sewage system.” Of all those the Russians had arrested, only Rolf and the coach survived, exonerated by their accomplices.

Rolf’s next challenge was “to escape from the Iron Curtain.” Fortunately, before the Russians came, Rolf, his brother, and father had dug a bunker in the forest and stocked it with food. He “hid there for 10 months [before] finding a connection” to cross a roadway patrolled by Soviet sharpshooters, just 2 miles from West Germany.

You can read more of Rolf’s incredible story in Memories to Momentum: Stories of Looking Back, Living Forward, available in eBook and paperback from Amazon. For now, let’s plumb Rolf’s experiences for strategies that might aid us in fighting a pandemic:

  1. Tolerate painful and adverse conditions when unable to change them
  2. Improvise technical solutions as needed
  3. Call on fortitude developed during prior hardships to persevere through current challenges
  4. Prepare for the future by setting aside ample cash and stocks
  5. Be patient until the right connection or moment occurs
  6. Cooperate with others you may have come to detest, especially those in “core” social groups, such as your family and community, to solve problems and secure the future
  7. Befriend others who have faced similar issues and learn from them

Recent research by Dr. Angela Duckworth and colleagues finds that grit, smarts, and physical prowess tend to be distinct traits: people high in one tend to be low on the others. Rolf, however, appears to be an exception. He displays cognitive brilliance in devising a telephone system via sewers, social intelligence by identifying a sharpshooter he could bribe, physical strength by living alone in a bunker for 10 months, and grit throughout all ordeals. Was “the hell” of his upbringing the key or did the key consist of kindnesses from his mother and the coach? Or both?

Memories matter. Find bits of yourself in Rolf’s and others’ life stories chronicling the adult impact of childhood memories. Researcher Dr. Niki Glanz toured North America 5 times to bring you these stories of courage, love, laughter, tragedy, growth, and success. 59 incredibly diverse accounts await you! Enjoy!


Memories to Momentum, on sale now at Amazon. Available in Paperback or eBook.

© 2020

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