Thursday, September 9, 2010

my words just won't do

it amazes me to think one year ago i was in krakow, poland. time sure does fly. i intended to blog that experience back then. not so much krakow but the day trip i took to auschwitz.

i never quite got around to it. time wasn't on my side for starters. august slash september 2009 was a mad rush of travel and goodbyes, relocation and hellos. but i guess there was another reason the post fell by the proverbial wayside. i just couldn't quite find the words.

for me, and i am sure most people, auschwitz conjures up horrific and incomprehensible thoughts and images.

and there i was: standing next to gas chambers where millions - millions! - of jews were exterminated; inside horse stables where lives were 'lived' and eventually lost through forced labor, starvation, disease and medical experiments.

wost of all, for me, was the large 'display window' full of human hair which had been hacked off prisoners' heads upon arrival at the camp for the purpose of industry. they found seven tons of it. on the other side of the wall: 'mug shots'. hundreds and thousands of photos of men, women, children - all stripped of dignity, emptiness in their eyes. awful.

it was soul wrenching, no doubt about it, but still: it was a pretty autumn day, the crisp air and light sunshine both flirting with my senses. the place was full of tourists all comfortably dressed, camera in tow and sharing the experience with family and friends.

we were all physically in auschwitz but we will never be in auschwitz.

elie wiesel was. his first-hand account, the following excerpt particularly, will stay with me forever.

In the wagon where the bread had landed, a battle ensued. Men were hurling themselves against each other, trampling, tearing at and mauling each other. Beasts of prey unleashed, animal hate in their eyes. An extraordinary vitality possessed them, sharpening their teeth and nails.

A crowd of workmen and curious passersby had formed all along the train. They had undoubtedly never seen a train with this kind of cargo. So, pieces of bread were falling into the wagon from all sides. And spectators observed these emaciated creatures ready to kill for a crust of bread.

A piece fell into our wagon. I decided not to move. Anyway, I would not be strong enough to fight off dozens of violent men! I saw, not far from me, an old man dragging himself on all fours. He had just detached himself from the struggling mob. He was holding one hand to his heart. At first I thought he had received a blow to the chest. Then I understood: he was hiding a piece of bread under his shirt. With lightening speed he pulled it out and put it to his mouth. His eyes lit up, a smile, like a grimace, illuminated his ashen face. And was immediately extinguished. A shadow had lain down beside him. And this shadow threw itself over him. Stunned by the blows, the old man was crying:

"Meir, my little Meir! Don't you recognise're killing your father...I have bread...for you....for you too..."

He collapsed. But his fist was still clutching a small crust. He wanted to raise it to his mouth. But the other threw himself on him. The old man mumbled something, groaned, and died. Nobody cared. His son searched him, took the crust of bread, and began to devour it. He didn't get far. Two men had been watching him. They jumped him. Others joined in. When they withdrew, there were two dead bodies next to me, the father and the son.

I was sixteen.

so you see then, where my words fall short.


what if summer... said...

I haven't read Night, but Maus by Art Speigelman was also a horrifying look into the lives of a few Holocaust survivors. It's an excellent book.

Seema said...

Night was one of the most horrifically beautiful accounts I have ever read.

Never been to Auschwitz but given my insane levels of empathy, I don't know how I'd manage. I guess words come by experience... and something like this is hopefully something we will never know first hand.

bananas. said...

the things that happened there...oh my. tragic, horrifying, unnecessary, hateful...i could go on and on.

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