It’s not often that I find myself without words. Typically, I seem to find too many. My thoughts are easily translated from mind to pen to page, and I feel a release (of sorts) a calm that comes after the storm of disjointed emotions that come together in a paragraph, an anecdote or a memory … but not today. There are no words for today.
I spent the morning visiting a Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinios, the second largest in the nation. And I thought I knew this story … their story. I have studied it, read about it, taught it even; but it turns out I only ever knew the portions and pieces I was able to handle. When it was too much–I stopped. I closed the book. I ended the conversation. I let the past be the past. But today, the frozen reflections of haunted faces wouldn’t let me. I was forced to confront the ghosts of angels and demons I preferred not to see.
The artifacts of a truth too brutal to comprehend washed over my senses until I gave the only gift of solace I had to offer that meant anything at all: my attention, my tears and my acknowledgement that this atrocity was, and still is very real. Survivor Elie Wisel, author of a life-altering account called Night, said that, “To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice.” So I will not.
At the end of the tour, I had the great honor and privilege to hear a testimony, a speech personally given by an eighty-one-year-old survivor. Eleven at the time she was rescued, I began to wonder whether childhood became a warped term to her … some sordid, cruel joke of the experience I know as blessed. The more I heard, the clearer it became that childhood was a phantom, a luxury that could not be afforded to prisoners of war.
I remember being shaken by her admittance of not being able to talk about the war after it ended. But then I realized, what could she say? What could she possibly relay about what was done to her? Taken from her? Lost. And so it seems I am, maybe–not so surprisingly, at a loss for words. Because today … they could never be enough.
Please don’t forget,