Kaddish at Auschwitz
Friday, January 30, 2015
Auschwitz. That’s it. I’m here. Three days after the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp, my job brought me by chance to Krakow. I’m making it a point, therefore, to go on to Auschwitz for the first and penultimate time in my life because, as part of my duty to remember, I’ll have to return with my children.
I had the privilege of making this visit with 15 of my friends from my professional association. On the bus taking us from Krakow, we watch a film about the history of the camp. Not a sound is heard, everyone’s eyes glued to the screen.
How many times have I seen the images of Auschwitz and of all the other concentration camps? How many times have I cried thinking about all these atrocities? How many times have I thought about all my great-uncles, great-aunts, uncles and aunts that I have never known or have never had and the impact that this has had on my life to this day? How many times in my life, while watching children play and then watching my own grow up, have I not said to myself: “If they had been born during that time, it would have been they whom adults murdered?” How many times, since my ninth birthday and the television series “Holocaust” with Meryl Streep, have I asked myself the questions “Why” and “How”?
The bus has just stopped and we’ve arrived. I carry in my hands a bag with my Talit, my prayer shawl, and my grandfathers’ two yarmulkes with which I want to say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Thanks to their presence of mind and their courage, they never came here. One jumped from the 16th convoy on November 1, 1942, the other joined the Resistance with the armed partisans. Both are a source of eternal inspiration.
I stand in line to go through the security scanner and through the window I see the damned door with its inscription “Arbeit Macht Frei.” A mixed feeling of both fear and rage overwhelms me. It’s no longer a photo, a movie, a television report, it’s right before me and it chills my blood.
I didn’t want to take the earphones to hear the guide. I know very well everything that happened and I want to be able to process in my head everything I see. I follow the group like a zombie, from barrack to barrack, every one of them transformed into a museum. In the distance, I see a group of young people with Israeli flags on their backs and I hope that, thanks to their country, there will “never again” be such a thing.
Inside one of the barracks, behind a window, piles of hair, then watches, then prosthetic limbs, then suitcases, then….a family, a life, stories that will never be told. Such is the planned, organized and systematic annihilation of human beings, continually improved, by other human beings.
Arriving here, one could expect the worst but not the unimaginable.
We leave Auschwitz I to arrive, a little farther, to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Workers are in the process of dismantling a tent under which stood 300 survivors the Tuesday before. And I tell myself that some day, during my lifetime, the newspapers will report the passing of the last living witness.
I’ve seen the images of Auschwitz-Birkenau dozens of times but in actuality it’s even more horrible. Seeing with one’s own eyes the stretch of the camp is absolutely unbelievable. It’s beyond comprehension.
In front of me stands a wagon, just like the thousands of wagons the Nazis used to cram together millions of children, elderly people, men and women—a tiny little window allowing a sliver of light into a dark, dark world.
A few more steps and I arrive at the “selection platform.” To the left, immediate death. To the right, death deferred. I burst into tears in my Talit bag. Why? How is this possible? How could this have been done…allowed to happen? The group of young Israelis arrives. They are walking on the railway that leads into the camp, turn in front of me and remain motionless in front of the wagon. One of them starts reading a survivor testimony, another shakes my hand and asks me in Hebrew where I’m from. “Belgia,” I tell him, “I come from Belgium but we emigrated almost two years ago because once again Jews are in mortal danger there.”
I continue walking to the final stretch where the railway ends. Life’s last stop, at the edge of which stands a monument flanked on both sides by the remains of two crematoria that the cowards blew up before running off like dogs. Sorry to the dogs for the comparison.
It’s here that I want to say Kaddish.
Despite the cold and the wind, I take off my heavy jacket and give it to a friend. I tremble as I open my Talit bag but it’s not from the cold. It’s from the emotion, the rage, the profound sadness and the emptiness of the human condition, humanity’s Ground Zero. I pull myself together. I read the Kaddish for all the dead. I am standing, like millions of Jews across the world. They didn’t win. They will never win.
Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.
B’alma di v’ra chirutei,
uv’chayei d’chol beit Yisrael,
baagala uviz’man kariv. V’imr’ru: Amen. …
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
In the plane taking me back to the United States to my wife and my children, I am still trying to process my visit on Friday and a bunch of thoughts rush through my head.
I had the chance to visit Auschwitz with a wonderful group of friends whose support was precious to me. All in all, as human beings, we were deeply moved by the place and by the Kaddish. They told me so.
I have a wonderful family, I live in an extraordinary country, I travel across the world and most of all, I am free. FREEDOM. The word never resonated so strongly in my heart and in my mind. I realize just how beautiful it is, how powerful but also so fragile. One has to fight daily to protect freedom. Those that survived Auschwitz know this and testify tirelessly to it.
I find it revolting that all these survivors of Auschwitz, as well as all these children hidden during the war are once again, during their lifetime, faced with hatred and anti-Semitism. It’s absolutely despicable and shows to what extent human beings learn nothing from the past.
I find the word “infamy” too weak to explain that, several decades later, people can deny the existence of the gas chambers, can write doctoral theses on the subject, can produce shows mocking the Shoah (to packed houses) or can represent a state-in-embryo or member states in the United Nations.
I can’t stand anymore hearing pseudo-intellectuals relativizing the Shoah and telling me that, “among the many dead, there were also Jews.” Many political prisoners died at Auschwitz. Many homosexuals died at Auschwitz. Many gypsies died at Auschwitz. But the Nazi machine planned the “final solution” specifically for Jews. The best engineers took on the task of improving the efficiency of the gas chambers and the crematoria to systematically annihilate the Jews. Thousands of trains coming from all over Europe borrowed railway networks from every country in Europe to bring the Jews to Auschwitz. Never before in human history has anything been planned with such thoroughness, such ease and with the collaboration of educated human beings who sought to eliminate others simply because they belonged to another people.
And therefore I find intolerable these current “politically correct” leaders who repeat “never again” before taking their mistresses for a ride on their scooters, or playing golf in front of a pack of journalists who can no longer think critically.
I find it criminal that they refuse to name the present evil for what it is: Nazislamism and that they never tire of saying that “this has nothing to do with Islam.”
Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, all have to do with Islam. From El Banna to Tariq Ramadan, from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to Leila Shahid, from Gaza to Tehran, from Paris to Brussels, from Malmo to Toulouse, it’s the same ideology, the same bunch of morons marching with their arms outstretched to the sky hollering “Death to the Jews,” the same hateful indoctrination of children, the same common plan: the annihilation of the Jews. And today in Europe, children are once again murdered, shot in the head simply because they are Jews and the Shoah is taught in schools less and less to spare the feelings of some Muslim parents.
At Auschwitz last Friday, I was talking about it with a German friend of mine. During the 1930s, seven to ten percent of Germans were Nazis but it never occurred to anyone to argue that Nazism had nothing to do with Germany. As long as we don’t name the problem, we’ll never be able to truly address it.
For more than 30 years, the media and European politicians have broadcast anti-Israel propaganda, all the while claiming they aren’t anti-Semitic. In theory, it’s of course possible. In practice, we see the results: Israel has become the “Jew among the Nations,” and the Jews in Europe are once again in danger. Israel, a democratic Jewish state surrounded by more than 50 Muslim dictatorships. What goes on in the heads of these politicians and the media, these new Daladiers and Chamberlains who today, would like everyone to believe that these radical Muslims have nothing to do with Islam? They bear a huge responsibility but won’t ever be concerned, like many collaborators throughout history.
In the meantime, the Jews have Israel and Israel will not allow another Holocaust to occur. Since 1941, the Allies knew about Auschwitz. The World Jewish Congress insisted on having Auschwitz bombed, of destroying this death machine, of gathering the Jewish refugees into Palestine and allowing trains carrying Jews to enter Switzerland rather than sending them back to a certain death. At the very least, bombing the railways leading to Auschwitz…something that was never done! Oh, if only Israel had existed during that time, how many lives could have been saved. Herbert Pagani was right back in 1975 when he wrote: “ ‘I think therefore I am’ means nothing. I defend myself, therefore I am!”
In a democracy, the Jew is like a canary in a coal mine: when he stops singing, it means the firedamp is coming! Look back throughout the ages and see what happened to a country from which the Jews had to leave.
Last Friday, I read the Kaddish at Auschwitz. Today, I am going home. Tonight, I will laugh and play with my wife and kids. Tomorrow, I will prepare for their future, my heart and mind open, my hand holding a gun.
(Translated from French by Talia Shulman Gold)