Lamentation for the Jews of Eastern Europe

A thousand years from now,

When you lament the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust,

Remember the ones who died in the woods.

Who died when they were shot, falling into pits they dug themselves.

And the ones who were locked into storage vaults under the marketplace and left to die,

The ones who were hidden away, then betrayed,

The ones who covered the eyes of their children as the soldiers before them took aim,

The children who were torn from their parents’ arms and tossed into cattle cars because the authorities decided they were too young to work.

Babies with their mothers, kindly grandmothers and grandfathers, parents holding their childrens’ hands, brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles. Young girls and boys who should have been meeting under the chuppah, and instead, mingled in a bed of earth.

Remember the villages where no one tells the story, because there were no survivors. The towns in Russia and Poland and the Ukraine where no memorial marks a mass grave, because no Jew survived to tell the tale.

There is only a scar between the birches in the forest floor, or behind some dilapidated houses, or a story the neighbors refuse to discuss.

Nothing marks the fact that Jews’ lived there except for the overgrown weeds in a field of broken stones that was a cemetery, or the occasional Magen David that appears in the pavement, a decorative bit of headstone used to repair a sidewalk.

They were young and beautiful, or old and ugly, or rich or poor. They were swift or slow, or pious or not. They studied and prayed and fasted on the High Holy Days, or perhaps they did not believe. They were talented in the arts or at the art of making money, they were healers or politicians, they cooked and sewed and advised and repaired and invented and wiped the tears of small children when they cried. Some of them were kind and some of them were loving and some of them were angry, or sad, or greedy, or absent minded, and some of them thought only of philosophy, and some of them of business.

A thousand years from now,

When you lament six million Jews murdered for no reason other than the fact that a monster gave an order and other monsters fulfilled it,

Remember the ones who died in a thousand towns across Europe with names no one can spell and no one can pronounce. Remember, and do not forget.

They were just like you and me.

About the Author
Helen Maryles Shankman is an artist and author. Her book, "They Were Like Family to Me," originally published as "In the Land of Armadillos," was a finalist for The Story Prize in 2016 and won an Honorable Mention for the 2017 ALA Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature. Her stories have been published in many fine literary journals, including The Kenyon Review,, Gargoyle, and Cream City Review. She is a columnist at The New Jersey Jewish Standard.
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