A Carton of Eggs: Remembering Auschwitz

‘A focal point for visitors today, the gateway sign says “Work Will Set You Free,” a monstrous lie told to the men, women and children imprisoned there. (Maciek Nabrdalik)’ [Smithsonian.com]

“…tolerance cannot be assumed …. it must be taught. And we must make it clear that hate is never right and love is never wrong!”

— Auschwitz survivor Roman Kent, speaking at the memorial ceremony for the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

I am writing this on a cold January day. On the ground are the remains of the nearly two feet of snow that fell here a few days ago, on January 27th, 2015. That day was also the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, perhaps the most infamous concentration camp, and surely one of the most evil monuments to hatred constructed by the Nazis during World War II. The weather on that long ago day in Poland may well have been like this one in southern New England: the wind gusting strongly, cutting through skin and clothing like a frigid knife.

“At least 1.1 million people were killed here, most within hours of their arrival.”
— Andrew Curry, writing about Auschwitz for Smithsonian Magazine, February, 2010

As I sit here, I am warm, safe, and well-fed. I am still alive, despite cancer, grief, the viscissitudes of occasional misfortune. I am doing two of the most powerful things any of us can do in the face of bestial human cruelty — I am remembering and I am writing.

I am remembering a small handful of friends and their parents, Jewish friends of my generation, and their parents who were imprisoned in concentration camps and managed to survive. I am remembering the cordial, dignified father of one of those friends. He scarcely ever spoke of his experience in the camp, but it was always there, like a base note humming underneath his posture, his demeanor. It vibrated with the conflicting emotions of survivors’ guilt. With every intention of preventing his children from feeling that guilt, they inherited it anyway, a burden of helpless sorrow and wordless resolve that infused their perspective, their self-esteem, their choices.

I am remembering a woman I met several years ago. I was visiting her to perform a home physical therapy evaluation. She had recently come home from the hospital and was feeling weak and unsteady. She was a charming lady who spoke with an accent that sounded Eastern European. Her house was cluttered with old furniture and memorabilia. In the background was the sound of soft clucking from the hens she kept in a large coop behind her house. I petted her sweet old dog. And I admired a large, elaborate cage full of vividly colored Australian finches, a gift from her son, who was present to help. She offered me tea, coffee, lunch, egg salad, cake, each of which I politely refused, per my employer’s policy. Her son and I discussed ways to rearrange some furniture to create safer pathways for her and her walker. She was tiny and bent with arthritis, but fiercely alive, her face crinkling throughout our visit into an irrepressible smile. She resisted several of our suggestions, but always with charming persuasiveness. “I’m old, but I get around okay,” she said. She again offered me a drink, a sandwich, cake. Again, I declined with a smile.

As we were wrapping up our visit, I asked her about her accent. “Where are you from originally?” I asked.

“I am from Auschwitz,” she said. And as she said it, I noticed that one of her sleeves got rucked up, and tatooed on her arm was a row of numbers.

My eyes instantly filled up, but somehow I managed not to cry. We gazed intently at each other for a few eternal seconds. Finally, I said, “I am very glad you are here.”

“Every one of you is the guardian of the memory…”
— Bronisław Komorowski, the President of the Republic of Poland, at the Memorial Ceremony for the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

As I was packing up to leave, she insisted that her son fetch me a dozen eggs. “Fresh,” she said, with her remarkable smile, “very good hens. You take.”

I hoisted my work bag over my shoulder and accepted the carton. “I’m very glad to have met you,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said, patting my hand. “You a good girl.”

I managed to get into my car and drive to the end of her driveway before I had to stop the car. I sat and wept for several minutes. Every day over the next few weeks, I would tear up whenever I cracked an egg, and say a silent prayer.

Today, this week, I weep again and I remember. I will always remember. It is the very least I can do.

Some links:
1) Auschwitz: The Forgotten Evidence – Full Documentary – History Channel
2) The Auschwitz Album, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Geographic Channel
3) Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum, 70th Anniversary of Liberation Memorial Ceremony
4) Smithsonian: Preserving Auschwitz

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Saturday, January 31, 2015 at 10:01 am, filed under Life & Mortality, Survivorship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “A Carton of Eggs: Remembering Auschwitz”

  1. Kathi,
    Thank you for remembering and writing. It’s so important that we never forget how so many suffered and died in that horrible place and other similarly horrible places as well. And now as there are fewer and fewer actual survivors still alive to give witness to what happened there, it will become even more important for the rest of us to do exactly what you have done here, share their stories. Reading this brought tears to my eyes too. I’m very glad you and the woman you wrote about met too. I often end mbc posts I write and share with #Wewillnotforget. This seems fitting here as well. In fact, #Wemustnotforget. Thanks for the post. xx

  2. Thanks for commenting & sharing, Nancy. Lori, at Regrounding, just wrote a post about the parallels w MBC, too. We who blog know how much it means to tell our stories, as well as those of others who cannot tell their own. xo

  3. “I am from Auschwitz.” Wow.

  4. Yeah, Elizabeth. What a telling answer, on so many levels. Felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart.

  5. Thank you for writing this.
    We must never forget and we must never let such tragedies happen again.
    My youngest daughter did an internship for a semester in Europe. One weekend she to Dachau. She was commenting on what a sad and evil place it was even now, when her Jewish roommate said, it was a place of victory because she and her people still exists.
    And it is not just Jews and Nazis. Two houses down, while I was growing up, was an Armenian family whose grandparents had escaped their Holocaust.
    A number of years ago, a church I was in, sponsored a Cambodian family, only part of their family had escaped Pol Pot.
    Today, in the world, thousands still suffer, often die, because of their race or religion.
    We must not forget Auschwitz, Dachau, any Holocaust. large or small, anywhere.
    There are things far worse than cancer, especially the kind of hatred in a human soul that allows such evil. Cancer only kills the body. Evil kills the soul.

  6. Thank you, Elizabeth J. Yes, that is why we must never forget — because around the world, too many are still victims of terror and genocide. Our weekly headlines tell us that. As well as our history books.

  7. I’m echoing Elizabeth… “I am from Auschwitz” … incredible. Your response, beautiful. xo

  8. Thank you, Carolyn. Yes, she and that answer were unforgettable.

  9. I am glad you accepted the eggs. Lovely story.

  10. Me, too, Sharon.

  11. Not to be a copy cat, but at “I am from Auschwitz,” I burst into tears. What a powerful meeting, and a powerful post. Thanks, Kathi.

  12. Thank you, Julie. I think tears are perhaps the only response to that. xoxo

  13. Kathi, what a beautiful, poignant post. Thank you for writing this piece on remembrance. We must never forget, and as you say, genocide exists pretty much everywhere.

    On a personal note, most of my family on my dad’s side was wiped out in the Holocaust. My dad survived by escaping with his mom when he was a young child, but he still was never the same. His dad was “mysteriously” killed when the Germans invaded Poland, where he is from. His sister died of starvation.

    None of my relatives talked about what they went through. And I grew up bearing the heavy burden nonetheless.

    Thank you once again for writing this. We must never forget.

  14. Oh, Beth…I had no idea! So, you know exactly what it’s like, to grow up with that legacy like some of my friends have. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose one’s family in such an unspeakable way or to survive such carnage. And genocide continues. Hugs, dear friend.

  15. Kathi, I too have tears in my eyes. Such a sad and beautiful story. Thank you for your compassionate heart. xo

  16. Thank you, Eileen. It’s important for all of us to remember. xoxo

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