International Holocaust Remembrance Day is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This year, the memorial day falls during the week when we read Parashat Bo, the weekly Torah portion that describes the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt.
And so, I bring you a poem by former Sonderkommando Ovadya ben Malka:
In every generation, one should see oneself as having left Egypt.
Nothing could be easier, in my generation
than to see oneself in Egypt.
The sights, the sounds, the smells
of slavery are never far away
We relive it in our sleep
awakening with a cry
to find the hand of a loved one on our shoulder
whispering, it’s over.
But how can we believe it,
how can we see ourselves as having left our Egypts
our fated oblivions,
when we start at the slightest sound,
when the shadow of a child above us
causes us to flinch from a blow
that mercifully never falls
when the night brings it all back.
the hand of a loved one on our shoulder
whispers, it’s over now.
The leaving of Egypt begins when we finally believe
not that we were there,
but that we have left there.
Ovadya’s story is told in Returning (Kasva, 2018), the haunting story of Ovadya’s return from the abyss of memory.