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These are things we do not say. These are things we are not supposed to know. These are things the Germans wish to do to us, wish us to be ignorant of – wish to round us up like unsuspecting lambs for slaughter, like dumb oxen who don’t know better. To know is to be in danger; we are not permitted to know.
Are we, then, not even permitted to think? Are we supposed to not even really know, to pretend to ourselves that we are ignorant? No, that cannot be. And once I know, it is too much. That knowledge lies heavy inside me, deadens me when I am awake, cries within me when I sleep. It lives, it breathes, it sends breaths of fear shivering up my throat, squeezes my heart in light, fast, beats of fright.
Am I to hold this thing inside me, then, to freeze before its strength or to lose myself in its terror?
I had to rip up the paper. I sat there, in my seat, and held it in my hands. I tore it down the middle. Then I put the two halves together and tore them again through their narrow waist. I walked to the fireplace and put the pieces gently in.
I will remain silent, and I will be as strong as I can, and I will fight the thing within me.
But I will know.
I can see the fireplace now, the few small pieces of wood burning, the small tongues of flame.
The white, ragged squares are put down gently.
Smoke comes around the white sides. The edges blacken, then grow flames that jump around them. Small flames, gently licking, consuming.
I don’t see my papers burning. I see other flames, dancing flames, flames that speak in silence.
Our people are being lost… gassed… burned… How can we remain silent? Brothers, brothers, we must protest!
Those flames will live, safe inside me.
I will know.
One day… if…
If I live…
Then I will tell the world that I know.
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We had just moved to Boro Park, fresh from the DP camps. The community was new and small, but we were settling in nicely. I knew how fortunate I was to have almost my whole family survive; most had so much less. Our family was a draw for many who needed that familiar feeling of home. One Shabbos afternoon I answered the door to find one such friend and a couple I did not recognize.
I didn’t need that much garlic. After all… how much garlic, exactly, could I put into the chicken without overdoing it?
But something made me leave the white, rounded head on the counter after cracking off a few bulbs, rather than putting it back in the fridge. Maybe I’d need more.
I stare, and I stare, trying to connect to those deep, seeing, eyes, to the wisdom and depth within that face. And all I can think, murmurs sliding in a circle through my mind – is, hadras panim… hadras panim… hadras panim…
“…will the kid say, ‘Oh, I’m walking into the strange house, just like Goldilocks?! Maybe the kid will think..”
Apparently I had walked into a family discussion of the pros and cons of reading fairy tales to children.
It was Moishele, and Itche, and me. We did everything together. We even made our own language, which only we understood. In shul they jokingly called us “the troika,” after the three bishops whose authority extended across Poland.
These are things we do not say. These are things we are not supposed to know. These are things the Germans wish to do to us, wish us to be ignorant of – wish to round us up like unsuspecting lambs for slaughter, like dumb oxen who don’t know better. To know is to be […]
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/potpourri/listen-to-the-flames-as-told-to-rayzel-reich-by-her-grandmother-mrs-jenna-reich/2011/12/23/
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