Yesterday I marched the march of the living together with my parents, my sister and 10,000 individuals from some 30 countries. We marched slowly and almost silently along the footsteps of nearly million and a half individuals. It was their via-dolorosa, the very last walk they ever took. Nearly 100% of those who marched that path between 1942-1944 found their death once they’ve reached their destination in Birkenao. They were gassed to death. One million and a half individuals!!!
We marched in their memory. For their wasted lives. For their suffering. With an inner movement which peacefully state that we will do whatever we can to assure that this kind of cruelty will never re-occur. We march to celebrate the preciousness of human life.
As the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors my life was and probably still is affected by the horrific experiences my grandparents suffered during the Holocaust and the post trauma that it incurred. The Holocaust has been a big part of my life at least since birth. Later in life, as a thirteen years old attending junior high school in Whitehall Pennsylvania, I was bullied by a Neo-Nazi gang for an entire year and had a first-hand encounter with Antisemitism. Still, I’ve managed to postpone the March for more than three and a half decades. I refused to go. I was terrified. Afraid I’d be crushed by what I will find there. Afraid I won’t be able to handle the pain. Afraid I won’t be able to comprehend the magnitude of that living hell. However, a few months ago, my parents asked me to join them in the march and I embraced the opportunity. I felt strong enough to face this part of my family history. Felt mature enough to share such a meaningful and intimate experience with my parents.
As expected, the experience was painful. Overwhelming. Sad. Inconceivable. A reminder to the potential of human kind to act in cruelty with no boundaries. A reminder of the moral dilemmas facing bystanders. And the pain anyone who has ever been a bystander to any atrocity must feel. Yet at the same time, as happens every single time I’ve been confronted with cruelty, alongside the overwhelming incomprehensible suffering, there were reminders to generosity and kindness and a first-hand recognition of the magnitude of human spirit and the capacity to love.
For example, our guide at Auschwitz shared with us the story of a young priest from block 11 who sacrificed his life asking a Nazi officer to kill him instead of his inmate – a Polish political prisoner who was sentenced to death and begged for his life. Miraculously, despite the fact that 90% of the individuals who arrived at Auschwitz died there within 3-4 months, that Polish man whose life was spared lived on and died a natural death in 1995. Later, during the main ceremony, the March organizers commemorated the extraordinary act of kindness of Raul Gustaf Wallenberg , a Swedish architect, businessman and diplomat who single handedly saved over 100,000 Jews during the holocaust.
The spirit of wholeness continued yesterday as well with the Hungarian president who attended the ceremony and ceased the opportunity to apologize to the crowd. He stood in front of 10,000 individuals – survivors and descents of Holocaust survivors – and apologized for Hungary’s collaboration with the Nazis in 1944. A collaboration which resulted in the massacre of 600,000 out of 800,000 Hungarian Jews who found their death in just under a couple of months in 1944. 400,000 of them died in Auschwitz and Birkenao. He asked for our forgiveness and asked us to join him in a minute of silent commemoration in memory of those who lost their lives in these camps. I think my heart broke at that moment. As if it melted. I’ve been tearing more or less continuously ever-since.
Then there was the chief Rabbi of Israel – himself a Holocaust survivor – who in a cracking voice pleaded the elderly Holocaust survivors – today in their 90’s –to drop any anger or resentment they might still be holding towards God or mankind. Realizing they will not stay alive for many more years he practically begged them to “come home” and enable themselves to end this life in peace. He said God cannot be understood by reasoning.
And then I realized I too dropped my “reasoning” – I dropped the “why humans behave with so such cruelty”. Dropped the “how did so many human beings enabled that cruelty to take place”. Dropped even the “what can be done to prevent cruelty from happening again”. Suddenly I was just willing to sit there with the way things were. With the way it is. Not arguing with the past. Not resisting the present. Not trying to influence the future.
For a few hours of grace, surrounded by the remains of unbearable suffering, I just allowed it to be what it is. What it was. And also allowed my small self-centered mundane suffering to be what they were. A tooth ache. Losing my parents half way through the march (how symbolic). Embarrassed to be vulnerable around my mother. Crying anyway. Getting annoyed with my sister complaining she is bored. Knowing I could not have done it without her. Feeling gratitude to my parents. Struggling to convey it. And all through the day the pain of saying good-bye to a man I love. The hurt. The anger. The sadness. The pain. The love. Of myself. Of the world.
And the birds chirping. And the trees. And the infinite clear blue sky.
The soft sound of rain.
The smell of the wet soil.
A yellow flower.
The space around everything.
The nothingness inside everything.
And the undefended heart that can live with all of it: The pain. The beauty. The deathless.
The oneness of duality.
This is the song that my heart has been singing over the past few days.