Fred, my recently deceased 92 year old uncle, always had a saying whenever you asked him how things were going…”moving forward.” It was his pat answer; not because he was trying to derail a longer conversation, but because he had a much greater attachment to those two words than most of us will ever encounter.Briefly, Fred’s story is this. He grew up one of 7 children in a very poor part of Eastern Europe. They had a 3 room, wood frame house with a dirt floor to shelter their family of 9. His father passed away in 1936 and Fred’s sister, the only one older than Fred, immigrated to Cuba in 1938. Fred was 16 and was now the man of the house, caring for his mother and 5 younger siblings. Daily meals consisted of watered down soup and hopefully some bread.

Fred moved forward.

He hustled to make money just hoping to have a piece of chicken and some bread for the family to eat on Saturday. He made friends with local farmers who would give him a bottle of milk for the family every once in a while. They were very poor and had their struggles, but they were happy. They had the unity of family to pull them through. They entertained themselves using their imagination and creativity. To get a job in his town you were lucky to work as an apprentice for a year, for free, in the hope that you would start getting paid after the year was up (primitive interns). Yet, in the face of such overwhelming odds, Fred was powered by Determination and Hope.

The story does not brighten for about a decade. Fred’s family was rousted by the Nazis into a ghetto. Just when you thought there couldn’t be a step down in living conditions, there were now 3 families to a house. This would not even compare to the misery that happened next. Fred, his mother, and his 5 siblings were herded onto a train by the Nazis. When the train arrived at the “camp,” his mother and all his siblings were directed to go right and Fred, as a healthy young man, was directed to go left. He never saw his family again after that moment.

Fred moved forward.

Fred and many others like him were put to work in brutal conditions: barely enough clothes, certainly not what you need for the tough winter, shoes that did not fit making your toes curl up, filthy living conditions not fit for an animal. These were the conditions. Fred and the others in his barracks were given a hit on the head with a club every day, as they exited to do their work. Some days he could dodge this blow, most days he wasn’t so lucky. Food was sparse, as was the medical care. If you looked sick, you were taken away and shot.

Fred moved forward.

Fred was fortunate to get a job inside in the Laundry, keeping him out of the harsh weather most of the day. One day he heard they were selecting people in the camp for a castration experiment. When the word spread Fred hid for the day. He was beaten by his boss since he didn’t show up for work. Better that, than the alternative.

Roll the time ahead, and Fred had been in 3 concentration camps for a continuing period of 4 years. One day he was rousted from his bed while at Auschwitz, and told to get dressed, and given a hunk of bread. Not knowing anything else, as was the case every minute of his life in the camps (as he shared it), Fred ate the bread. Little did he know it was supposed to last him a week.

Next thing he knew he was marching in those ill-fitting shoes with the wooden soles, with seven thousand others. This was known as the Death March. The Nazis were taking the captives on a journey that would last seven days. Yes, marching for seven days. Fred described it as sleeping while standing up, holding onto the shoulder of the person in front of you. No food.

Fred kept moving forward.

Not everyone moved forward on this March. If you fell down and couldn’t continue they shot you and left you there. By the way, Fred said they killed many German soldiers who also fell down, more evidence of the horrors the Nazis were capable of.

Seven days later, they arrived. Fred was one of around 2000 people who survived the ordeal.

In a matter of a short time the Americans liberated the camps. Fred spoke about having Generals Eisenhower and Patton standing right in front of him. Eisenhower was inconsolable over what he saw about their condition and all they went through. Fred felt badly for Eisenhower being so emotionally upset.

Fred went to a Displaced Persons camp (DP). This camp was hosted by the Americans and provided a chance to gather oneself and make a new life. Fred was there for 18 months. It was here that he met his wife Helen, who also survived the camps for several years. They planned to go to America. In 1947 after contacting his uncle and aunt (my grandparents) in Philadelphia, they began a 2-3 week journey by boat to Ellis Island. The boat had equipment failure and it took 8 weeks. They were terribly seasick and ate lots of sardines. When my grandmother and mother greeted them, they said “let us help you with your things.” Little did they know, there were no things. They had nothing but the clothes on their back. They were incredibly grateful to be in America.

Fred moved forward.

Fred and Helen lived with my mom and her family, becoming as close as brother and sister with my mom. Their sibling-like relationship would last a lifetime. Fred got a menial job working in a textile plant that went on for 13 years. He thought America was the greatest country in the world. They had twin girls in 1949 and a son in 1955, and never worried about how to make ends meet. They were a family, fueled by Determination and Hope.

Fred moved forward.

In 1961 Fred got a small business loan of 10 Thousand Dollars. He opened a Mom & Pop Grocery store in Northeast Philadelphia. This is how I remember Fred. He worked 7 days a week, just he and his wife for the most part. I remember him saying that America was the greatest country in the world. He had perspective. My cousins, Fred’s kids, all went to college. He busted his butt to make sure that happened. The business lasted over 23 years, until the day he retired.

Fred didn’t speak of his past. I learned much of what I shared here from a filmed interview that Fred was asked to do by an organization documenting stories of Holocaust survivors. He did say he never forgot the past, but that his focus was always about “moving forward”. His own kids and others in the family never heard him or his wife speak about the past; their tattooed forearms with their numbers said it all.

Fred never wasted one minute feeling sorry for himself or his situation anywhere along his life. Fred never quit. Fred never lost his Determination and Hope.

Fred moved forward.

I have found my uncle’s mindset to be a terrific inspiration throughout my adult life, and have continued to find it relative to the business world ever since founding ETA in 2001.

Some of the most successful businesses wouldn’t be where they are today if it weren’t for their collective mindset powering them through all of the challenges and obstacles they had to overcome.  Here at ETA, we believe that these obstacles are merely a test of our morale and grit, where ‘moving forward’ is the only option to continue on our mission as we further develop and grow as a company.