I think the hardest thing for a parent to handle is the knowledge that their child is somewhere in pain – physical or emotional. It is impossible to go to Poland and visit the concentration camps, what remains of the ghettos, the abandoned synagogues and endless mass graves…and not cry, not break. The tears that come in Poland come from the depths of such agony.
When Amira and I went, we had the most amazing guide – an Israeli who had been to Poland 60 times…whose parents and grandparents came from Poland. He took us to his grandfather’s grave, one of 85,000 in a huge field of mostly unmarked graves…a few years before our visit, the guide had used German records to find where his grandfather was buried so at least his grandfather had a headstone, unlike those all around him.
Moments before we were about to walk into the gas chamber for the first time, in Maidanek, Chaim said to us, “I’m going to take you in there, and I’m going to take you out.” To this day, those words bring tears to my eyes. I’m going to take you out…that’s what Israel couldn’t do in the 1940s…because there was no Israel, and that is what Israel has been doing for the last 65 years. We took the Jews out of Yemen, out of Ethiopia, out of Iran and beyond. We took hurt people out of the rubble in Indonesia, Kenya, Haiti and beyond.
I wish I could be there for Davidi, to promise him that I would take him out. He’s 18 years old. He will survive the trip to Poland – they go with Israeli guards and the power and protection of the State of Israel. And still my heart breaks because while Israel can protect him physically, no power on earth can protect his heart, his soul from the devastation he will see. Even 70 years later, it is crippling. He’ll come back stronger…he’ll come back changed…but in these weeks before he goes, I can only think about what I saw, what I know he will see…
There are ashes that remain in the ovens, ashes piled into a mountain in Maidanek – it is called the Mountain of Ashes…I thought it was a symbolic use of the word, but it’s not, it’s very real…
The cemeteries are being destroyed. Unlike the Polish cemeteries that are so neat and often have beautiful flowers, the Jewish cemeteries are overgrown, abandoned, desolate. Many of the headstones have been desecrated.
The bunkers at Auschwitz, the suitcases, piles of glasses, and human hair that remain decades after later.
We went in the summer. Saba Moshe, grandfather Moshe, went with us. He looked at Auschwitz and said, “it’s all wrong…all wrong.” He was looking at the grass-covered feels. “There was no grass here. If there was, we would have eaten it.” When Davidi goes, there will be no grass. The cold will be incredible, especially for a child born and raised in Israel.
All this and more, he will see, he will experience – and I keep thinking to myself…he’s only 18. Amira was the same age, but I was with her…I wasn’t there for Shmulik when he went and he came back stronger and better for having gone. I won’t be there for Davidi…I have to believe he’ll come back stronger and better as well. For now, I just want it to be over.
Visit A Soldier’s Mother.