Title: I’ve Been Here Before – When Souls of the Holocaust Return
By Sara Yocheved Rigler
Published by Menucha Publishers
Sara Yoheved Rigler was inexplicably gripped by the Holocaust from a young age. This, despite never having met a survivor or having seen a Holocaust movie. (There were none to be seen anyway in the 50s and 60s.) The topic wasn’t exactly bandied about in her American home in suburban Philadelphia/Camden either.
About eight years ago, she posted on the Internet a survey to satisfy a long-standing itch in her brain, or more likely her soul. Are there other people in the world like herself utterly consumed with the Holocaust, beyond your average Jewish obsession (because aren’t we all to a degree obsessed, as I know I am?). She was seeking people who felt the Holocaust viscerally, in the limbs of the body, as a deep personal trauma, not “as though” I was there, but – “Yes, I was very much there.” This was a self-selected survey. Only people already plagued by suspicions from dreams, nightmares and day visions, looked up “reincarnation and the Holocaust” and arrived at this questionnaire.
The answers she received from 450 people, both religious and non-religious people, from Jews and non-Jews alike, confirmed for Mrs. Rigler that she was far from alone. These responders, some even as young children, experienced nightmares of torture, executions, a gassy “rain” coming down on them in crowded showers, corpses in huge pits, the stench of gas and decomposing bodies, dreams of hairless, skeleton-like people wearing “stripey things.” The nightmares often continued through adulthood, triggered by anything – a toy train, a European city, a brick wall, a German accent. When Rigler suggested that they may be reincarnated souls of the Holocaust, many experienced enormous relief and felt released from a private shame and burden they had been carrying for decades. They were not crazy or oddballs, but members, as Rigler put it, of a secret society – gilgulim from the Holocaust. Finally, they had been accepted.
One can easily grasp the theological appeal of reincarnation. It is predicated on the belief that there is an eternal “soul that outlives the body,” an idea that may be disturbing for the secular-minded, but makes perfect sense for the Torah observant. For Rigler, gilgul provides a crucial approach toward understanding evil in general, and the Holocaust in particular. She writes, “What had seemed like six million horrific story endings were instead six million horrific chapter endings.” There is more to the story, far more. The narrative of our live(s) stretches back centuries and unfurls before us in infinite complexity. This awareness compels us to reconsider any grievances we may feel toward G-d. It enables us to pull back heaven’s curtain and look beyond it to get a glimpse into what G-d was thinking. All is not as it seems, and G-d is kinder than we’ll ever know.
I have a tendency toward both skepticism and gullibility, often at the same time – which made reviewing this book a little challenging. I read it quickly, with fascination and many questions. I wanted to know what the actual survey contained. Some of the histories/examples provided to strongly suggest the possibility of a reincarnated soul, but others? Maybe, maybe not. As one commenter wrote regarding her intense Holocaust dreams and waking visions: “Could I be suffering from reincarnation or an extreme form of empathy?” Each reader will need to answer that question for him or herself.
Even with that caveat, I’ve Been Here Before is a compelling and soul-provoking read. I wanted to be with Sara Yoheved Rigler in her personal quest, hang out with her, learn about the Jewish sources that point to reincarnation, meet the unusual characters she encountered, like the charedi lady who in her past life was a chain-smoking non-Jewish woman who ran a brothel and successfully hid Jewish children during the Holocaust. (You can’t make this stuff up!)
My favorite part was the last chapter, which recounts Rigler’s experiences, both in the ashram and out, that led her to Judaism. It reads like a spiritual thriller. And the book’s ending will blow your socks off.