Thursday, January 27, 2005

Never again

We say it. Yet there is still Hell on Earth.

Exhibition: Private Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. (Some facts.)

Photo essay.

I fully expected to be bombarded with images of horror today. I was not. Numerous blogs for weeks already have been preparing for a "blogburst" of historical information and essays to commemorate the occasion and help instill the importance of what transpired on the ever-growing numbers of people intent on forgetting.

As my afternoon is winding down, I realize that although there has been less awareness and less coverage of this event than I assumed there would be, I have done nothing.

Some eloquent recollections of a visit to Auschwitz here.

Reminder of our civic responsibilities: "A heroic life is made up of extraordinary moments lived in the context of daily existence. . . . It is my call as an artist not to forget, but instead to create art in the spirit of Yevgeny Khaldei that marks the moments of our time."

Some historical perspective, quoting "But there is another kind of evil that we must fear the most, and that is the indifference of good men."

I visited Auschwitz on a beautiful, sunny day after a morning rain. What struck me was how "pretty" it was — tree-lined walkways, brick dwellings — clean and orderly. For a moment I could see what the Red Cross inspectors had seen.

In that moment is the knowledge that I too can be blinded.

Santayana's reminder is written on the wall of the visitors' centre at Auschwitz: "Those who will not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

The Trees are Silent, by Halina Birenbaum

The trees have seen and heard a lot
Have imbibed and covered much
But even when rustling
They remain silent

They would not tell us about
That what they have witnessed

They tell us
Neither about the wonders
That happened in their shadows
Nor the horrors

They climb toward light
Like we they are thirsty of sun
Dye in darkness
Wither of atrocities

And do keep silent — always remain silent

With their shade of secret they shroud
Wipe out equally well the traces of
Love and crime

... And in Auschwitz too
The trees grew and climbed to the sky
Imbibing into themselves
The screams the fire the smoke

And they did stubbornly keep silent

And I
When being marched amongst them
Found in them signals of life
The proof of existence
That was forbidden to me

I stared at the trees
Breathing in their fresh smell mixed
With the smell of burnt human beings

With my eyes I passed on them
My desires
My cry for life
For the faith
That life be
Also allowed to me

I prayed that the traces be preserved
Of my existence once in this world...

Many like me confessed to the trees
Begged for remembrance
Wanted to climb up to their tops
To fly away

Traces of those have vanished
Have been blown away

The trees saw and heard all these
But in their habit
Kept growing and getting green
And they kept silence

They did not lament over human suffering
Perhaps they even laughed at it?

Became drunk with the stench of burned people
With a diabolic spell got bewitched?
And were turned into something different
Than had been until then?

The trees have perpetually been silent

To me, the little one, it was granted to survive
In order to tell
About the German Nazi monsters
About their victims and the witness-trees

About trees' keeping silent
In the face of every sight
Of every calamity

I did love and still do love trees
To their shades I confide
My pain my longing my daydreams

In their rustle I unite
With my loved ones
Doomed and perished

And with the world
That once had existed
but has been destroyed
And I within it — We

In the solemn silence of the trees
Their inveterate mysterious keeping silent
THEN there was hope

And today
A consolation


Grins said...

Michele sent me, but your post deserves far more than the chuckling I've been doing on most of the blogs. Your post stopped me in my tracks. I've seen your site before but this post would have caused me to comment whether Michele had a scavenger hunt or not. Bravo.

Aussie Mama said...

Lest we forget.

The poem was haunting yet brilliant.

SC&A said...

We all at one point or another, ask ourselves, "Why are we here?"

Some theologians answer that we are put here for a purpose- one that last a lifetime or perhaps but a moment.

If your purpose in the Grand Design was but for a moment, well, this was that moment.

Your post is extraordinary.

Beth said...


matchingtracksuits said...

For six and a half years now, I have lived about 60 miles south-east of Oświęcim. I still haven't been there. I keep telling myself, "Next winter," for it seems to require cold -- frigidness -- to experience it. I think I must want to suffer a little. Silly.

I visit the Dachau concentration camp when I was twelve. I'd just realized that toes were going numb -- it was very cold for a Virginia boy like me -- when the guide mentioned that many of the inmates didn't have shoes.

I teach about 60 miles south-east of Oświęcim, and yet nothing was said in school yesterday about the significance of the day. An entire cadre of world leaders was "in the neighborhood," and not even that spurred any sort of recollection.

Unfortunately, it's not just the blogging community that is forgetting about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had expected an outpouring, especially on the blogosphere, but it didn't really eventuate.

I visited Aushcwitz in 1998 and posted about it on my own blog yesterday

Suzanne said...

Thanks, Isabella.

The poem you posted and the image of the train tracks leading into Auschwitz set afire have set a deep imprint in my mind.

I fear we will always just repeat the past.