In memory of Dr Shmuel and Alina Goldman and their martyred families
I was returning to Jerusalem, and they were accompanying me, victims and survivors, those whom I could name and see, the invisible six million and more, as yet unaccounted whom I could not.
The Egged bus climbed the Judean Hills, gradual slopes and jagged peaks of varying shades of grey, brown and white rock which glistened in the afternoon sun. The highway was marked with rusty, blood- red frames of tanks, half-tracks and trucks which had burst into flame during the battles of the War of Independence, now testimonials to the convoys which had relieved the Siege of Jerusalem.
The blue explosion of the Mediterranean Sea, which I had left, less than two hours ago, had merged with the vapour-blue sky, at the foot of the mountain cemetery of Haifa.
Dr. Shmuel Goldman was engraved on the tombstone, unveiled for the wind-swept, gathering of eyes which took in the sea, the sky, the mountain, the southward highway and the stone in a single panorama.
A gently wrinkled, heavy framed, yet thin, grey-haired, bespeckled man in a blue trench -coat and a beret gave a eulogy as if conveying the final judgment of a court much higher than one from which he had just recently retired. Our gentle quiet modest, smiling, small, great friend, Dr. Shmuel Goldman died for a third time. First, in Auschwitz, where his wife and daughter were killed, then at the end of the war, when he discovered that most of his family had been murdered, and here again; but between the first two times and now, although he always lived with the memories of his beloved ones, he was redeemed and he redeemed.
Upon his liberation from the concentration camp, he determined to settle and practice medicine in Israel. It was his sole purpose in life. There could be no other for him. His second companion in life, Alina, understood his past and realized that it would forever be part of his present. She accepted that. His only future, and he believed In the future, was Israel; however, he refused to be consumed by the Holocaust. His message was one of optimism. Although a major part of his life had ended in crematoria, he believed that Jewish history did not. He would not concede to Hitler this victory. For him the state of Israel meant redemption. Have we learned from Him? But more important have we, his friends, taught that to our children? Will they, as the future generation of leaders, be able to follow through on the message of his life? I leave the grave of our dear friend, who traveled from Poland to Israel with a stop in hell and still retained his dignity, tranquil nature and ceaseless compassionate patience towards others. Dr. Goldman was indeed true to his name, a man of golden character.
On a hill in western Jerusalem, ashes of victims from Auschwitz and other camps brought to Yad Vashem repose in a low building with a top layer of cement and a lower layer of embedded rocks, guarded outside by tall, majestic trees. It is a fortress dedicated to the preservation of memories of extinguished European jury. In one darkened room, one flame quivers for each annihilation camp, in another, a list of as many names of the perished as can be assembled, grows. In a third, a museum of pictures, exhibits and words of personal recollection surround the observers. There is also a library, among whose books is the Institute’s prize -winning book, Matzevot by Dr. Jacob Herzig. Therein written, “Each word spoken here, anywhere and everywhere on behalf of the martyrs…. is the only way by which to attempt to give each victim a tombstone.”
Cinders from burnt offerings, the sea-swept mountain wind, and the approaching desert breezes from Jerusalem, mixed in the fast moving bus. My mind was focused on monuments, or the lack of them, which my wife and I had traveled, seven years ago, to witness during our honeymoon to cities in Eastern Europe and former concentration camps, in an endless unveiling, to ensure that we would offer prayers of remembrance, the Kaddish, in gratitude for the heritage bestowed upon us by our ancestors. We felt this was most significant before we began building a family together.
The solid, red brick, empty fortress-like buildings, surrounded by a fence with the Arbeit Macht Frei slogan on top of the entrance gate, seemed to deny nature’s right to grow hardy grass, tall trees and colourful flowers, or even for the sun to shine there; but it did. The stench of the gas chambers had not precluded the regeneration process of life from occurring, even at Auschwitz.
Large, small, brown, black, grey, worn, new, torn, resewn shoes were stacked floor to ceiling in a warehouse room in every size; but no prince had searched far and wide to discover to which orphaned Cinderella each pair belonged. Here, the shoes remained; their owners’ identity was long since forgotten. Another gymnasium-sized room held caps upon caps, for heads of every conceivable shape, clustered like pebbles on a beach. In the next room spectacles of an infinite variety of prescriptions, bore witness to the fact that eye-sight was no longer needed for vivid vision where their owners had gone.
The brown, wooden structures of Majdanek’s wholesale warehouses contain the remnants of the most complete inventory ever-assembled of man’s inhumanity to man.
It was not a house, not a street, not a number. “Mila”, the Polish word for “pleasant” blended with the address number 18, “Chai”, symbolizing life,” in Hebrew, ironically designating this now empty Warsaw lot, as a place of pleasant life.
A statue of the tall, muscular Anielevitz, the twenty-three year old, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, stands where he fought his last battle for forty days until he was shot and fell, wrapped in what would become the Israeli flag, from the fourth floor window of Pleasant Life Street, one of the resistance-movements names, he had chosen for himself was “Aniol”, which means “Angel”, in Polish.
The elderly passenger, next to the window, excused himself, and in his heavy Slavic-accented Hebrew, as he was getting off at the Mevatzeret Zion Absorption Centre, Anielevitz ascended a burning pyre, only to descend with the founding survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, a few miles from these palm-swept hills in the Kibbutz, commemorating his name, Yad Mordechai.
The wind carried the words of the Haifa graveside rite to my ears; however, Dr. Shmuel Goldman refused to be consumed by the Holocaust, his message was one of optimism. Although a major part of his life had ended in the crematoria, he believed that Jewish history did not. He would not concede to Hitler this victory. For him, the state of Israel meant redemption. Have we learned from him but more important, have we, his friends taught that to our children? Will they, as the future generation of leaders, be able to follow through on the message of his life?