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A Journal Entry from a Personal Experience in Jerusalem
By Eric Podell
Tuesday- 5/02/2000- Jerusalem
I was sitting on a bench eating a bagel and cream cheese right around the
corner from Kikar Zion near Ben Yehuda Street. It was the typical city
scene; a couple on my right passionately engaged in argument, a girl talking
away into her cellular phone, a man drilling a sign high above on a ladder,
people waiting at a crowded bus stop, and the taxis and buses speeding
through the streets…Then it all came to a grinding halt.
As loud sirens sounded at exactly 10:00am, the drilling above went quiet,
the girl on her cellular phone stood still, and the couple both bowed their
heads to the ground in silence. The buses and taxis stopped right in their
tracks. It was like choreographical “blocking” used in the theater; people
were positioned and standing in ways that captured the tragic drama of the
moment. As I too observed the moment of silence for those lost in the
Holocaust, I was both saddened by the tragedy yet proud to be standing on
that street, with those people paying honor. The heart of a nation has
never looked clearer than Israel on Yom Hashoah. Sometimes the most
beautiful sights appear out of the saddest tragedies.
In the afternoon I made my way to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial
Museum. The city of Jerusalem has a melancholy feel to it this day; people
paying genuine respect for the families lost. At Yad Vashem I met my
friend's second cousins, Rose and Irving Meth who both miraculously survived
Auschwitz. Now I would meet the Holocaust face to face.
Rose’s story would blow Steven Speilberg’s mind. Rose, along with four
other young girls, was responsible for the only uprising to ever take place
in the hell that was Auschwitz. The girls worked at the weapons factory
within the camp, and everyday they would sneak gunpowder in their pockets
until, after nearly eight months, they gathered a strong amount. When the
crematorium at Auschwitz was blown up one unsuspecting day, it was Rose and
her courageous friends who were responsible. Tragically, as with all
Holocaust stories, the four girls were caught and publicly hanged, while
Rose and what remained of her diary made it out alive. Now she is the
reminder, a symbol of both the horrors of the Holocaust as well as the
strength of the human spirit.
We were walking around the museum when we came across a monument in honor of
Rose’s four friends who perished. Rose spoke with me, placed a rock on the
monument, and cried passionately for her lost friends. Maybe they were
tears for the horror of humanity that was the Holocaust. Maybe she just
misses her friends. She made it clear to me that her name was also supposed
to be on that monument. We then passed a faceless sculpture entitled, “The
Silent Cry”. With a strong voice and an intense look deep in her eyes, Rose
asked me if I knew the purpose of this dramatic monument. “Do you know why
they call this ‘The Silent Cry’?” she asked. “Because nobody would listen.
Nobody wanted to hear our cries.”
As we silently stood in the Hall of Remembrance staring at the Eternal
Flame, an Israeli couple stopped Irving and Rose and asked them the
unanswerable question: “You two were there, how could this happen? One and
a half million children were butchered, how could G-d allow this to happen?”
asked the religious man. This is a question I too asked myself with no
resolve. With an aging voice and sad eyes Irving answered by saying simply
that there is no answer. We will never be able to devise an explanation for
such a horrific chapter in our history. Rose said that G-d chose the Jewish
people to be strong, from the Exodus from Egypt and the story of Passover to
Buchenwald and Auschwitz centuries later.
She mentioned how we have
beautiful generations of Jewish people, we have our own beautiful nation,
and the Jews are built on blood sweat and tears, and the ability to overcome
these conditions. They both agreed that it is our strength that keeps us
together. Through a sick, raspy voice, Irving began to weep. The Israeli
couple began to cry as well; the woman covering her face, the man grasping
the bridge of his nose beneath his eyeglasses and staring at the ground.
I stand in this half circle with two Holocaust survivors, my good friend,
and an Israeli couple, the grief and tragic emotion being expressed is
overwhelming. Yet, through this trip we have been sitting on buses
together, praying on Shabbat together, living in Israel together, and now we
Jews cry together.
As Irving tries to wipe his tears and I swallow the lump
in my throat, the man we just met shakes my hand and says, “Hopefully we
will meet again in a better place.” Because the Jewish world is one of
unity and togetherness, I probably will meet this man again somewhere,
sometime. And we will remember this moment we shared together, and maybe as
we enjoy a Shabbat dinner together with pride and strength, we will have a
clearer understanding of why G-d could let such a tragic event occur. The
Exodus of the Jewish people is far from over, yet we have learned to go it
hand in hand.
I am reminded of a comment Rose made to me earlier in the day. We were on
the subject of growing old, the trauma of watching your body age, the aches
and pains and so forth. “I really don’t mind growing old, “ she said to me.
“In fact, I really enjoy it. Yes, I am quite happy to age.” I understand
her response today as I stare at the museum photographs of the six million.
She doesn’t mind growing old because her family and friends never got the
opportunity to. This is the essence of the Holocaust.
from the May 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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