“Those moments which murdered my God…”
On that September morning, I walked the Krakow cobblestone streets in near-freezing air at 5:30 a.m. to grab a bus to Auschwitz. I had pulled an all-nighter but not by choice.
The reality of visiting that infamous “there.”
I don’t remember the ride but I arrived. The tour guide, a blonde woman in her 50s — speaking perfect English with a thick Polish accent, languid in reciting the blisteringly-morbid data to a dozen tourists who wouldn’t dare utter a word.
I had read the books, watched the documentaries, ingested every frame of Schindler’s list, countless times. But there is something about a place.
As the helpless prisoners arrived, young children, the elderly, and those with illnesses were separated. A guard would point to the left or the right. One direction meant to the “showers,” which pumped deadly Zyklon-B poison gas into the chambers.
I kept my mouth open for hours — a dropped jaw allowed me to cry and breathe, simultaneously, as my nose was plugged. There was something about the ground: the dirt, the cement, the grass, whether inside the gas chamber, along with one of the roads, in the disgusting barracks — “they walked in this ground.”
I should have remembered but I hadn’t — these camps had but one purpose: extermination. If you weren’t shot or gassed it was only so you could work…to keep the killing factory functioning.
The stories of torture, disease, filth, “surgeries” — you can google those if you’d like. I don’t have the stomach right now to repeat them.
A wave of anger — one that I had never felt before, and haven’t felt since — began to arise. The Final Solution — the command to exterminate — was announced on January 20, 1942. Why this anger? Because for nearly 20 years, millions sat silent. Christians. Pastors. Everyday citizens. Sat silent as Hitler attacked the free press, institutions of power, foreigners. Dark-skinned people (he ended up murdering millions of them) — all in the name of making German great.
But Bonhoeffer did. The Lutheran pastor was called “divisive” and “political” for standing against the hatred. He paid the ultimate price at Flossenburg.
The words of Elie Wiesel rang through my crazed mind:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
Estimates suggest that Nazis murdered 85% of the people sent to Auschwitz. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million died
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Today is Holocaust Remembrance day — I will never forget, either. I hope none of us do.