LCI Blog: Serendipity Scores – a lesson in learning

By David Landis, LCI President

I recently returned from Wiesbaden, Germany – where I met with LCI’s 45 public relations agency colleagues from around the globe, all members of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN).

Twice a year, our international PR affiliates meet to discuss new business ventures, partnerships, industry best practices and to share stories and good times. LCI has been the San Francisco member of this distinguished group of communications professionals since 2005. Joining the network is one of the best moves we ever made as a business.

Wiesbaden, Germany

Our German colleague, Michael Diegelmann (CEO of Cometis, PRGN’s investor relations agency based in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt) coordinated a stellar lineup of speakers, tours, dinners and special events. Each session shed new light on how to improve business strategies and innovate for the 21st century. And we thought that was where we’d learn the most.

Michael Diegelmann, CEO Cometis

But isn’t it funny how learning sometimes comes in some of the most unexpected ways?

Reality has a way of turning things upside-down. After a session on German history, Michael stood before us and said he wanted to bring history to life in a very unusual and local way. We followed Michael through the town of Wiesbaden to a spot where the Jewish synagogue had been located prior to World War II. The synagogue had been an ornate and impressive building of architectural renown. Hitler and the Nazis burned it down and 60,000 local residents – mostly Jewish (but also Catholics, gays/lesbians and gypsies) – were deported and lost their lives.

Jewish Synagogue, Wiesbaden, Germany (prior to World War II)

Our normally very talkative group of PR professionals suddenly became extremely quiet as we viewed the incredibly moving memorial. Growing up in Highland Park, a Jewish suburb outside Chicago, I thought I knew a lot about the Holocaust. But I learned something very telling that day: namely, that the single most visible way the Nazis humiliated the people they killed was by taking away their names – and assigning them a number – before sending them off. The memorial restored each person’s name.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Holocaust Memorial, Wiesbaden, Germany

As we viewed the moving tribute, Adam Friedman, CEO of PRGN’s investor relations firm in New York, Adam Friedman and Associates, asked Michael if he could say a Kaddish (prayer) for the dead. He placed a yarmulke on his head and prayed aloud in Hebrew. We gathered together, unable to contain the outpouring of emotion.

When the prayer finished, the tears kept flowing. And what we learned that day may have been the high point of the meeting: namely that you think you’re going to learn at a business conference, but sometimes the real learning comes unexpectedly and in a different way. It was definitely something our group of PR business professionals had never anticipated.

Michael then led us through the cobblestone streets of Wiesbaden to a plaque in the sidewalk. Wiesbaden has an admirable program called “Lest we forget.” If a person lives in a house and finds that someone from the Holocaust lived there, the City will pay for and install a plaque in the sidewalk adjoining the house to commemorate that person.

Lest We Forget plaques in Wiesbaden commemorate those who died in the Holocaust


The real lesson here? As much as we need to plan, sometimes the greatest learnings come when we least expect it. I intend to embrace this – both in life and in business. The trick is to be open so you recognize that “ah-hah” moment when it arrives.

Thank you, Michael, not just for talking about what was surely a very difficult time in your country’s history – but for showing us how Germany has addressed it and ensured that history will not be forgotten. And thank you for bringing the world a bit closer together.

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I’d love to hear your comments (please comment below) – or email me your thoughts:
[email protected]

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32 Comments

  1. Anne Buchanan Reply

    David —

    Thank you for so eloquently summing up this moving experience.

    I did not pick up on this, but Henry told me afterward that during the prayer that Adam led, a number of cars driving by our group tooted their horns in support.

    To share that moment, in that place, with some of my best friends (literally) in the world will remain the highlight of my trip to Germany.

    Anne

    • david Reply

      I will cherish the sound of honking horns from this day onward. Thanks, Anne.

  2. John Echeveste Reply

    Thank you, David, for speaking for all of us who had the rare and special honor of visiting this remarkable site. It was without question one of the highlights of the trip and an unexpectedly moving and touching experience for us all. I am especially glad that Adam Freedman was with us and was able to offer a proper and fitting closure to the experience. It was an experience in which few words needed to be said, but volumes were spoken.

    • david Reply

      I am speechless, John. Which you know is a unique event. Thank you.

  3. Sean Dowdall Reply

    David,

    Beautifully written.

    Those moments there at the memorial were some of the most moving ones of my life. There, onsite where a community of people regularly gathered is a remembrance of their lives and the devastating horror that ended their lives and attempted to end their culture. I was touched by the connection to the innocent victims who lived and contributed to such a beautiful and successful city that revered the arts, education so many wonderful things in life. It makes the tragedy even more ironic – how could this have happened here? Seeing Wiesbaden today, one would never know – except for that memorial and the sidewalk plaques.

    Sean

    • david Reply

      Thanks, Sean. It is important to never forget.

  4. Donna Reply

    Thanks, David for this very touching story. Indeed, many of life’s best lessons..and moments…happen when no plans are in place at all.

    Donna

    • david Reply

      Thanks, Donna – and yes, quite powerful.

  5. Jason Ginenthal Reply

    Wonderful entry, David.

    I can’t imagine going from something as innocent as a conference to suddenly being thrust into one of the darkest moments in mankind’s history. Even so, Germany has (at least from what I’ve seen) made many strides commemorating those who lost their lives as well as making sure that stories are preserved for future generations.

    Fortunately, most of my father’s side of the family made it to the United States prior to World War I, though of course we had many relatives who remained in Russia and the Ukraine. As strange as this sounds, I’d love to go to both countries and see where my Jewish relatives emigrated from. I better start learning some key Russian phrases now!

    In any event, thanks for sharing this — it sounds like you left Germany with a memory that will last a lifetime!

    • david Reply

      Yes, this is definitely something that I will always remember. Thanks, Jason.

  6. Gretchen Krueger Reply

    David,
    What a powerful story! It gave me chills. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Gretchen

  7. Tarah Beaven Reply

    David,

    I agree that life has a way of reveling itself when we least expect it. And your story is one of those moments. Thank you for sharing.

    ~Tarah

    • david Reply

      Appreciate all the responses: Tarah, Rob, Elizabeth, Alessandra, Hilary and Mark.

  8. david Reply

    Thanks, Gretchen.

  9. Rob Reply

    David,
    Life surrounds us with lessons, but we don’t always pay attention in “class.” Thanks for sharing this poignant and very thought-provoking experience. We all can — and should — learn from it.

    Rob

  10. Landis PR Reply

    David,
    Such wise words! I think it is so important to remember history and to pay tribute to those who had to experience the Holocaust first-hand. Thanks for a great blog (and awesome pictures)!

    Best,
    Hilary

  11. Alessandra Reply

    David,
    Thanks for telling this touching story and for letting me share in this special moment. What a pity I wasn’t there!
    I love the lesson you have derived from this experience. Life is full of “ah-hah” moments. We just should let our minds and hearts be open for catching them.

    Alessandra

    • david Reply

      I guess that’s why we call them “ah-ha” moments, right? Thanks, Alessandra.

  12. elizabeth Reply

    David,
    Thanks for sharing this emotional story,
    Thanks to Adam for the kaddish,
    Thanks to Michael for bringing history to life.

    Elizabeth

    • david Reply

      Absolutely, Elizabeth.

  13. Mark Schlesinger Reply

    Very moving blog entry, David. Thanks so much for sharing this experience…your description allows all of us to share, to some extent, what was obviously a very powerful day.

    • david Reply

      Thanks, Mark.

  14. Frank Cullen Reply

    David,
    Thank you sincerely for your beautifully written and powerful reflection of a truly amazing occasion which I am certain is indelible in the memory of all of us present.
    Thank you Adam for leading us in prayer and stirring our emotions.
    Thanks also to Michael for conceiving and organising what was a simply unforgettable moment.
    Slán
    Frank

    • david Reply

      Agreed, Frank. It was unforgettable.

  15. adam friedman Reply

    David,
    Thanks for this eloquent essay that manages to convey a very special moment. As a child of survivors, this occasion had special meaning for me and was a form of closure on a very sensitive subject.
    Let us all remember our common humanity and vow not to let the world forget and never to be silent in the face of evil.
    Adam

    • david Reply

      Adam, I didn’t realize that your parents were survivors. Even more moving, thanks so much.

  16. Jordana Reply

    This was a really beautiful post David. Thanks for sharing your amazing experience with us! Cheers, Jordana

    • david Reply

      Glad you liked it, Jordana.

  17. Landis PR Reply

    Thank you for sharing such a moving experience with us David.
    – Radhika

    • david Reply

      Glad you participated, Radhika.

  18. Leslie Caplan Reply

    Oh, David. You have reduced me to a sobbing mess. What a beautiful tribute both to the victims of the Holocaust and to your own sensiblities.

    See? I have been telling you all along that you are a JEW.

    • david Reply

      Thank you, Leslie!