Tomorrow, after two days in Krakow, Poland, the FASPE trip participants head home. I think we've all been transformed by the experience; I know I have. I plan to post a bit in the coming week about my efforts to draw my thoughts together.
I have to pack and try to get a little sleep before our early departure, so I'll round out these mid-trip posts with a fond memory and an oddly bittersweet one.
First, the fond: on our last evening in Oswiecem, about a dozen of us wandered over to the Auschwitz Jewish Center to spend a little time in the synagogue. The main purpose was to say Kaddish -- even though most who came along were not Jewish -- but several of us also took the opportunity to speak and sing, quietly and gently amongst friends, about our time at Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was a very sweet, very moving hour.
I read a poem called "Try to Remember Some Details" by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. I chose the poem not just because it's beautiful, but because Amichai was born in 1924 in Wuerzburg, Germany, the city from which, on April 25, 1942, my great-uncle Leopold was deported to his death in Poland.
Try to remember some details. Remember the clothing
of the one you love
so that on the day of loss you'll be able to say: last seen
wearing such-and-such, brown jacket, white hat.
Try to remember some details. For they have no face
and their soul is hidden and their crying
is the same as their laughter,
and their silence and their shouting rise to one height
and their body temperature is between 98 and 104 degrees
and they have no life outside this narrow space
and they have no graven image, no likeness, no memory
and they have paper cups on the day of their rejoicing
and paper cups that are used once only.
Try to remember some details. For the world
is filled with people who were torn from their sleep
with no one to mend the tear,
and unlike wild beasts they live
each in his lonely hiding place and they die
together on battlefields
and in hospitals.
And the earth will swallow all of them,
good and evil together, like the followers of Korah,
all of them in their rebellion against death,
their mouths open till the last moment,
praising and cursing in a single
howl. Try, try
to remember some details.
And second, the bittersweet: this is a brief video clip I shot of a pit adjacent to one of the gas chamber/crematorium buildings at Birkenau that now lies in ruins. It's a pit into which the ashes of thousands of human beings were thrown. The sound you can hear is the croaking of the frogs that now live in it.