Tree of Life To Auschwitz:
I Finally Get It
By Cheryl Moore
[Originally published on eJP January 3, 2019]
A few blocks from my home, eleven Jews were shot to death, but about what do I obsess when I think about the Tree of Life massacre? I worry about whether the victims had time to fear, to feel pain, to worry about each other, to understand what was happening.
Over a million Jews were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but as I stood there last week, at Auschwitz, in front of a pile of tiny shoes, I worried about the little ones, their small feet still in those shoes, their small hands resting in the hands of their mothers. Were the children confused, scared, cold? I picture their faces. I picture the bent bodies of their weary mothers, desperate to comfort their children. Who comforted the children who had already lost everyone?
And again, at Birkenau, as I stood at the side of the rubble of what had been a gas chamber, understanding that below my feet hundreds of thousands of human beings, knew that they and those with them were, at that moment, being murdered. That millions of final terrified, horrified last breaths occurred where I stood. That even after they were aware of it, the countries of the world allowed this factory to continue its extremely efficient production of death.
I felt so tiny in the massive machine of atrocity that is Birkenau. The space seemed to be a gaping vacuum, hideously sucking me into its monstrous core. We stood, my mother, my sons and I, at the side of the gas chamber, with bowed heads, and said Kaddish. They said Kaddish, while I, after the first three words, could only sob. Our guide turned away, giving us privacy in our pain. At the end of Kaddish, one of my sons lifted his head and said clearly, “Am Yisrael chai.” The Jewish people live.
Indeed. Am Yisrael chai. These words, in Hebrew, are tattooed on my other son’s back. Because today, we Jews decide what, if anything, will be tattooed on our bodies. These words are also on banners and graffiti all over Israel.
As I walked among the barracks at Auschwitz and Birkenau, I thought of Israeli Air Force jets flying over the camps. My heart surged, overwhelmed with relief to know that Israel would never let a death camp again exist. Israel, as its fly-over show of force proclaims, will use the products of its massive pool of intellect, painful knowledge of human capacities, fierce and optimistic will to live, and tender Jewish soul to provide the guarantee that must accompany the promise of “Never Again.” Never again will the Jewish people be forgotten.
After contemplating all of the statistics, visiting other concentration and death camps, studying Jewish thought and history, and my Zionist activism and dozens of trips to Israel, I had to stand at Auschwitz-Birkenau, allowing myself to absorb the indescribable human horror, to finally FEEL the absolute necessity of a strong Israel. I told my sons this and one said, “I finally felt it two months ago, when our neighbors were killed at Shabbat services.”
Never again. Am Yisrael chai.
Cheryl Moore, B.A., M.B.A., B.S.N. is a Women’s Health nurse, living in Pittsburgh, PA.