I used to have many ideas, passionate ideas about the lessons we must learn from the holocaust. I would sit beside my grandmother listening to her stories, watch the documentaries and Hollywood productions, read… while my imagination went wild. Could this happen again? What would I do? Escape? Hide? Fight? Can we prevent it? Then I went to Poland. It broke me. The dull gray sky crushed me with its weight. I shivered in the frigid unforgiving wind no matter how many layers I had on. I tried to smile at some joke but it took so much effort. Everywhere I looked I saw shadows, imagined the screams. The dry earth beneath my feet felt soaked in blood. I kept imagining my grandfather waking up every morning to this hell year after year when I couldn’t even handle two seconds of its history. When I closed my eyes at night after hours of trudging through concentration camps the scenes would replay all night. “Does everyone posses that level of evil deep inside them?” I would wonder at 4am waiting for the uncaring sun to rise.
When I got home, I floated around Israel with a goofy grin for weeks. I kissed my children at every opportunity, enjoyed the smells of flowers, tomatoes and freedom. Of course, both the extreme despair and euphoria eventually diminished and as time passed I was back to normal. No, I don’t have any answers and the questions still ring in my ears. “There must be a lesson somewhere…” I still tell myself. I once read that when Elie Wiesel was asked for his thoughts he said, “Sometimes I am asked if I know ‘the response to Auschwitz; I answer that not only do I not know it, but that I don’t even know if a tragedy of this magnitude has a response.”
A horror like the holocaust can never be grasped by humanity. Our hands are too small and the truth is too large. It will always slip through our fingers. So we remember and remind. We humbly bow our heads to that which we cannot know as we look up and pray for the strength to continue the Jewish story. As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov says, “The world thinks that storytelling puts people to sleep but I say storytelling wakes people up from their sleep” I will keep reading, thinking, listening and storytelling. Only this time I will know that the answers will never come. That’s G-d’s domain. Our people keep pushing forward with the heavy history resting on our shoulders; faithfully and humbly. The storm of emotions hasn’t evaporated, it still hovers.
“I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” Ellie Wiesel