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January 31, 2015 / 11 Shevat, 5775
 
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These I Shall Remember


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I don’t hear the shot that comes from Garbler’s garden.

I don’t hear the fall of the body. I don’t see the cap of a Jewish boy fall over the fence, into the garden above my hiding place. All I know, is that there is a feeling inside me- an uneasiness- sadness – deep, deep, loss…

Itche…?

I see the doctor’s feet coming down to the bunker.

He stoops in the darkness and stands still before me.

“Your friend, Itche…” he says, and pauses. “They got him.”

His feet move on the dirt floor, and he speaks again. “And his two sisters… and their friend. They got them, too.”

That is life.

We live, and we know we will die. We know others will die. They will. It is only a matter of when.

But also a matter of who.

Itche.

Why, Aibishter…. Why…

I do not rebel before You… You are God, and You are Master of the universe, and You run this world as You see fit. But the question comes of itself, bursts out of me- Why, God, why?!? Are we people, God, or are we dogs… to be shot for sport… to be killed for no reason, at the mercy of others… helpless… not as humans….

Why, God, why…. Oh Aibishter, why…. Why…

It is the only escape for my pain.

*****

It is twenty years after all that has happened on this street.

I am in Dembitz for the first time since then. It is all familiar, and all strange…

Dr. Mikolaikow was killed in the war, and his wife has moved. I am staying with their relative, Mrs. Baginsky who lives across the street from the house where the Doctor lived. I will only stay here one night.

This street is soaked with blood.

Mrs. Baginski shows me to a bed in the front room of the house. She comes close and gestures to the window.

“You see there…?” she says, and points to a slight mound of earth beneath a young tree. Her eyes see the past. “They killed a boy, the Gestapo… That’s what I heard. They did it in their yard, but then they dragged the body here. I didn’t know if it was true or not.”

She pauses, and looks at the young tree.

“I wanted to dig up the tree, and replant it in the back garden,” she says. “When I started digging, I found a body.”

Silence ticks past.

“When I saw the body, I stopped digging and put the earth back.”

We stare at the tree.

Then she turns, silently, and leaves the room.

A tree grows from Itche’s grave. For that is Itche.

I feel nauseated, repulsed. I cannot look at that tree. It sits there in my stomach, this revulsion. I can’t lie down, I cannot sleep. All night I try to lie, and I sit up, and I try not to look at the tree, and I look at the tree.

All I see is Itche.

Year in, year out, I remembered the day.

Adar rishon. The twenty third. That is Itche’s yahrtzeit.

*****

I stand up for Shefoch Chamascha and stare at the words. Pour out your anger….

I am an American, born in a free land, who does not know fear or bitterness or hatred.

I look up and see the expression on my grandmother’s face. It is hard, chiseled in lines of bitter pain that have been drawn and etched seventy years ago.

I look at my grandfather. His sweet, kind face is hot and hard. Stony bitterness pours from his voice, pours from the rock buried deep inside him.

And I know.

For Reb Sruel Leib, the rebbe dearest to my heart, who made me into a man.

For Shaul, my friend, who never saw his sixteenth birthday.

For Yocheved, my oldest sister, whose life died within me when she was shot.

For my Uncle Yossy, and my Tante Hudis and my Tante Chaya…

For my grandmother Fayga, and my grandfather Bentzion, and my grandfather Duvid, and all my cousins, beautiful, kind children whose blood ran in my veins.

And for Itche.

Itche… Itche, my friend, who lived in my heart, and who died in my heart, and whose hole pierces my heart until today.

Pour out Your fury, God, on the nations who have not known You…

For they have consumed Yaakov… Pour out Your wrath, and the smoke of Your nostrils shall overtake them. Chase them with fury, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of God.

For Itche, God, oh God, for my family, my blood, oh for Itche…

Itche is not here. And yet he is here, shining in the red stream trickles from the Itche-hole in Zeida’s heart. Zeida’s face is furrowed, concentrating…hard.

Pursue them with fury…and destroy them…

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