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February 17, 1989 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I OPINION

Ashes

$ 7 000

Continued from Page 7

OM re.

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Or the third building, with
still more?
800,000 pairs of shoes. I
couldn't convey the hugeness
of that number to them if I
tried.
Should I tell them about the
gas chambers there? Or about
the ovens? Or the sense of de-
ja vu I felt, standing inside a
crematorim? Or how I ran out
of a barracks, gasping for
fresh air, trying to escape the
all-powerful stench of death?
Would they understand?
Or maybe, I thought, I
should tell them about the
mound of ashes, human
ashes, at Maidanek. It's a lit-
tle bit bigger than the sanc-
tuary I was to speak in. It's
made out of 18,000 human
bodies. Yes, I should definite-
ly have told them about that
— how those 18,000 people
were killed on Black Wednes-
day, Nov. 3, 1943, as a
response to the uprising at
Sobibor; how they were forced
to lie down in massive tren-
ches, on the corpses of their
friends and relatives, and
wait to be shot; how their
bodies were placed on railroad
ties and burned over a flame
so hot that the rails were
twisted and bent. But there
wasn't enough time.
Because I also had to tell
them about Sobibor. About
how there's nothing there but
a vast forest — no trace of the
camp remains except for the
train station. I needed to
mention the nursery school
that is now on the camp
grounds. I needed to tell them
about the Polish family who
actually lives in the railroad
cars at the unloading station
— how they played rock music
and sunbathed while we wept
and prayed just a few yards
away. (I led services. It was
my first time. Would they ap-
preciate how that felt?)
Maybe, I thought, I should
tell them how, on the way to
Auschwitz, I suddenly found
myself curled up in a fetal
position, rocking back and
forth, moaning "I'm afraid"
over and over again. That
would certainly grab their at-
tention. But could I talk
about it without breaking
down? Maybe I should have
told them about the Jewish
Martyrology Museum in
Block 27 — the same block
my aunt was -a prisoner in
during the war. The congrega-
tion probably had already
heard stories about the huge
mounds of hairbrushes. And
suitcases. And eyeglasses.
And shoes (still more shoes!),
and artificial limbs, and
human hair woven into fabric.
So maybe I should tell them
instead about Birkenau —
how my friend Eddie found
five human finger bones

under a rock, in a little pile
of ashes. I should tell them
about the memorial service
we held at Birkenau. How we
all read off lists of names of
our murdered relatives. How
most people had four or five.
How I had to read off a list of
45 names, while tears stream-
ed down my face and my voice
broke. Maybe I should tell
them about how I collapsed
when I had finished, or about
the arms that caught me.
How people told me afterward
that by the time I had reach-
ed the midway point on my
list, I was visibly shaking.
Could I find the strength to
talk about it?
Maybe I should tell them
that Treblinka is the quietest
place on the face of the earth.
How it's absolutely silent, ex-

Maybe, I thought, I
should tell them
how, on the way to
Auschwitz, I
suddenly found
myself curled up in
a fetal position.



cept for the singing of the
birds and the rush of the wind
through the trees. How
nature is displayed in all its
beauty — and how the
panoramic view is suddenly
interrupted by the sight of
17,000 stones set into the
ground, like tombstones
without graves. How the
stones stretch out so far that
the eye can not take them all
in at once — that your mind
can not grasp the vastness of
it all. How those 17,000
stones represent the n-umber
of Jews that could be killed in
just one day at Treblinka
when it was operating at its
full capacity.
Maybe, I said to myself, I
should tell them that that
was the first time, and I pray
to God that it's the last, that
I actually felt that emotion
called survivor guilt. For 15
brief, terrible minutes, I ac-
tually wished that I was dead
— that I could lie down among
the stones.
Maybe, instead, I should
have told them about the
Remu synagogue in Krakow,
or the Nozic synagogue in
Warsaw, and about the pitiful
state of today's Jewish corn-
munity in Poland.
Our group leader had warn-
ed us to avoid using phrases
like "You can't imagine" or
"you can never understand."
(Can you?) He said that we
should never fall into the trap
of thinking that because we
went there, we are somehow
special.
Because, the simple truth is

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