in honor of you whose name was mine
My great-grandmother was Jewish. Loosely (and I realize it doesn’t quite work this way) that makes me 1/8 Jewish, which is important to me primarily for one reason: it would have been enough to put me in Auschwitz had I been born a generation earlier, had my forebears emigrated a generation or two later.
For in addition to that scant Jewish heritage, I come from good Polish stock. I could have been there, and not-too-distant family members no doubt were.
I plan to visit Auschwitz, hopefully sooner than later, and before I go, I needed to confirm this information with an expert. I found several, including a rabbi well-versed in the topic.
After telling me I did indeed have correct information, he went on to say that immediately surrounding that camp of horrors, shockingly, to me, was an ordinary neighborhood. Imagine, little girls played with dolls, men drank beer and neighbors gossiped, a mere few feet away. Steps away.
We’ve all heard the stories; there’s nothing I can say here to bring it home. It haunts me, this stripping of dignity, logic and humanity. Turning the unimaginable into the routine.
I can’t distance myself from this simply because I’ve learned of it as history rather than current events. It is too close in time for that. The buildings stand, survivors walk this earth.
For some the generations between my one Jewish ancestor and the distance in space & time from the home of my heritage (I am, after all, fully American) would seem too great for an emotional connection to the victims of the Holocaust.
But little doubt someone who perhaps looked like me, because she was a cousin of some sort, spent her last days in an agonistic, surreal yet all too real world of shame and torture.
Or perhaps she survived and was living in this country while I grew up as children should grow up, for no matter what pain I suffered as a child, it is surmountable. I can lead a full life without whatever hell they carry with them every step of their lives.
I’m writing this now in anticipation of my visit to Auschwitz, as a prologue of sorts to my thoughts then. I have little frame of reference to imagine what I’ll find or sense, but I hope to record all of it, in honor of you whose name, perhaps, was mine.