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As do several others I have come to know, I have vivid memories of the Holocaust (Shoah) that can only be explained through reincarnation. These memories have had a profound impact on every aspect of my life since 1969, when they began. As a religious Jew, my understanding of these memories incorporates the doctrine known as gilgul neshamot (i.e., "the rolling of souls" from life to life). Even though much of Judaism accept the idea of reincarnation, my memories are not based on religious teachings. They are the personal memories I have experienced since I was 12 years old. I could no more deny these experiences than I could reject the air I breathe. In this piece, I seek to share these personal memories.
I was twelve years old in 1969. In the spring of that year, I had a horrifying and life-defining experience. I woke up in a cold sweat screaming from a nightmare in the early dawn hours, something previously unusual for me. Over the years, the dream's frequency and sense of 'realness' have only intensified. I no longer think of this as a dream but as a memory. What follows still awakens me at times with terrifying dread. I am sharing an experience, not a dream.
The memory never changes in any substantial way. Minor clarifications have occurred over the years, but these have merely filled in missing pieces as I remember and understand the experiences more fully. For instance, I recount hearing someone reciting Kaddish at one point. All I understood for the first few years was that this person was reciting comforting prayers. When I later heard the Mourner's Kaddish, I immediately recognized it and wept bitterly at realizing what those prayers implied. Hence, I added the name of the devotion to this retelling.
If I tried to rewrite the memory from my childhood point of view, it would be less true to the experience than sharing it as it is now perceived. My recollections of these memories have developed gradually over the years. Here I seek to share these memories as I experience them today. While I am presenting this material for your consideration, my consciousness is rekindled by pondering and retelling it, and I remember and understand the experiences more fully. Many details remain forgotten.
The dream/memory takes place in two distinct segments. For a few years, I thought these were separate dreams but have now come to understand that there is a point in the dream where I often wake up (frequently in a cold sweat, sometimes crying out, kicking and shouting in a language I am told "sounds German"). When I can return to sleep, the dream often continues from this point, almost as though it had a pause button. At other times I recall mainly the second portion. Following that point, there is a clear time break in the dream. Most of the events during this interval have been lost to my memory thus far. This telling began as notebook entries as I tried to understand this disturbing 'dream.' Shortly after I started to use the internet in the 1990s, I posted it to my initial Geocities site.
Update Notes:If the following is only a dream, why has it haunted me for almost 50 years? How have so many of its elements been confirmed as accurate beyond my knowledge at the time? Why do so many people who hear or read this account affirm that it rings true for them, including several knowledgeable rabbis and Shoah scholars? I present this retelling without further explanation or apology (although with an admittedly long preface). It is what it is. Baruch HaShem. As always, I invite your comments.
- 8.4.2006: I am beginning to remember pieces of this interval. I have added these hazy reflections in brackets at the appropriate place in the dream below.
- 9.10.2009: This section of the dream has gradually become clearer, and I have added a few new insights in this update. I will continue to include these in brackets because they are later memories.
- 03.25.2013: The realizations above have largely become seamlessly interwoven in my remembering, so the brackets have been removed. We're currently preparing to go to Israel.
- 04.18.2013: I am convinced that on Thursday morning, April 18, 2013, I reached the end of the path referenced in the dream/memory as I first placed my hands on the Holy Kotel (the Western Wall of the once and future Jerusalem Temple). With this experience, I feel a new phase in my life has begun.
- 04.22.2013: We visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. One of the most horrific experiences of my life! In the Warsaw Ghetto exhibit, I found (and handled) one of the carts we used. I was shaking like a leaf and sobbing the whole time we were there. Ahuva (my wife) went back a few days later because, worried about me, she could not focus on the exhibits and complete the halls. I visited Chut Shell Chessed and spent the rest of the day at the Kotel while she was at Yad Vashem. I doubt I could go through that again.
- 05/07/2013: Added the Bergen-Belsen sign, added locations, and updated the text to correct inconsistencies in tenses.
- 09.02.2014: We are preparing to make aliyah on December 29! We're so excited to go Home for good! I updated this piece a tad, removing a few extra points and this note. Not a major update.
- 02.04.2015: Aliyah did not work out. We can not find a way to live in Israel financially. We're both saddened by this, but we know it must be HaShem's will, and so we say B"H.
I tightened up the section above and made a few minor clarifications for language, and added a link to my poem and video Shoah Child.
Made a video version of this retelling (see below).
- 4-11-2018: Slight grammatical updates before broadcasting a live retelling on Facebook Live.
- 7. 09.2018: I received my smicha as a Jewish rabbi.
- 3/31/2022: I revisited Jerusalem in the winter of 2019 and stayed with dear friends there. I spend many hours at the Kotel.
Although I had planned to stay in Jerusalem for a month or more, a deep heaviness began in inflict my soul, and I left a day before Chanukah. Covid 19 began hitting the news shortly after I got home. When leaving Israel in 2013, my heart desired to move there; this time, I felt devastation was coming to Holy Land, and I felt HaShem telling me I was not to return until He told me to. That has not happened yet. I believe the end of the age is very near. The prophets speak of 2/3 of the Jews in Israel being slaughtered before the coming of Mashiach. He wants me to be elsewhere as the events come to pass.
I did an update of this piece as part of my restoring AllFaith.com. Most of these correct grammar.
Location uncertain, somewhere in Germany
My Lifelong Recurring Memory Location: Auschwitz:
It is very dark. I am alone, terrified. Stray beams of yellow tainted light filter in through slats of wallboard once covered with white stucco from a broken window near the bottom of the rickety wooden stairwell. The stench of urine permeates the hushed air. Piercing frigid air whistles in through the exposed slats running along the outside wall. It mercilessly assaults my face and senses. I want to keep my head covered under what was once a jacket, but the stench is too intense, whether mine or the jacket's I can not say. I must uncover my face and bear the assault of the urine-drenched stilettos of frigid wind.
We huddle on the wooden landing, wrapped in rags and old yellowed newspaper, seeking to escape unconscious oblivion. I am not alone, yet I am -- utterly alone.
It has been months since we experienced the simple bliss of a night's sleep. Each night we huddle together like mice on this landing, hoping to renew our strength for the next day's tribulations and, most of all, to remain unnoticed.
Most of the time, I exist as if out of my body, drifting as it were in a haze. There is no time in that state. Yet there is only time. Endless, relentless time, I am again drawn back into this accursed reality. Whether it is dark or light, it is always night for us, and they are always feeding, feeding, and we are the vermin they most crave to fulfill their voracious appetites. Please don't ask me why. I have long since stopped pondering such things, but I know that they are out there.
I doze again but soon awaken as a bony knee jabs my already aching back. He grunts, I shift, and we both doze on. Will this interminable night never end?
In the distance, I hear sounds. I cock my head and listen intently. The sound of scratching and whimpering drifts into our "Palace" (that's what someone called our hallway, and the name fits as well as any other, certainly better than words like "home" or "safe place"). The dogs are searching, sniffing, and scratching. My body emits cold perspiration that soaks me to my soul. I shiver in the dark, afraid to make a sound. My companions begin to stir. A voice whispers, "You OK?" Pause. Then, "Moshe!" Then nothing; nothing except the dogs drawing ever closer and my fear becoming frantic: Be quiet! I order myself. But I want to scream: This is madness. Then another voice - one of the yeshiva teachers, I believe, but can't be sure, whispers without emotion at all: "He's gone."
People come and go in the Palace; mainly they go. Although I could never say these words out loud, sometimes, I envy them.
Then the metallic scream of squealing brakes and men marching, feet running, and women crying out erupts. All of these sounds are growing louder and drawing closer. I don't move. My body is trembling almost uncontrollably. Sweat is streaming down my face. It burns my eyes, but I will not move. I must not! Now I hear the soldiers' gruff shouts and commands, and my heart is pounding. HaShem! I silently scream. But He does not reply.
I've always hated the Germans. They act like they are so cultured, but they are not. At least not anymore - this thought is in my memory and can't be denied. I no longer questioned why they were doing this. Monsters just do such things. My heart was set firmly against them. If there is such a thing as evil, the Germans are its embodiment!
Primal communal terror abounds as we instinctively draw closer together, carefully avoiding a shaft of light at the top of the stairs for some reason, as the dogs surround our building and the crunching pavement silences for a moment just below us. Again I fight the need to scream. Their scratching and sniffing drive me nearly mad. They bark too, fiercely, but their relentless snuffling, the whining frustration that they can not quite get to us vermin to eat us up, drives them and me nearly insane. That whining sound turns my spine to ice still today.
My body is shaking uncontrollably despite my determination "to be a man." I am, after all, a man now, I remind myself. I am thirteen years old, a proud son of Bulgaria. Oh, how I wish I were there! My bar mitzvah is six months past, yet I am terrified; like a lost child, I silently quiver and cry and beseech HaShem. Yet somehow, I know that neither He nor anyone else will hear me, let alone help me. I no longer ask why. Surely He hates me or, worse, does not care that I exist. But because I am a man, I hold it all inside where only G-d can see and hear, if He cares to. I know that G-d would forgive me if I cried, but I will not cry! I tell myself, wiping away my tears. I will be a man!
Suddenly, a fist bangs like a machine gun at the door below us. "Open up!" Bam, bam bam. What good is a door? Nothing can stop them! Our shivering ball of humanity tightens like a python too frightened to strike. The demanding fist bangs, pounding: "Open up in there!" I note to myself that the voice is odd. It sounds angry, yet there is an unstated sense that this is nothing personal to the soldier. I sense his resignation even as we are resigned to whatever will happen next; there is nothing we can do about it. For the soldier, this is just another door in just another town in just another country behind which slither ever more vermin without end to be exterminated. Not humanity, no, only pests. Yet there is also a bestial thirst for blood in that harsh voice. As with the incessant whimpering of the dogs, he desires our flesh. Blood. Our blood. For us, there is only dread. For the soldier, there is excitement like a priest in a mythical Kali temple preparing the ritual slaughter of a young virgin. I have read of such tales in books, but I never understood that I would one day play the role of the virgin. This manic 'priest' was now in a state of religious ecstasy to his G-d, Adolf Hitler. He would not be denied these latest sacrifices. Nor would the dogs snarling and whining behind him, ready to strike and devour us completely.
It is strange how contradictory feelings can sometimes merge and make insanity seem rational. To the Germans, it was just another day in the Third Reich; to us, just another day in hell. What would be would be. HaShem had abandoned us. I don't know why.
Next, a darkened figure arose: one of us. The man struggled onto trembling legs, emerging from our pile of quivering flesh. No! I want to scream. But the words don't escape my mouth. He moves toward the stairs bracing himself on the wall to his left. No one says, please don't go, but we are horrified by the prospect that he will. There was no choice, of course. We knew that. But still. They had come for us as we all knew they one day would. But why today? I never knew his name; the man braced himself against the darkened stairway on shaky legs and began his descent. He moved in slow motion down the stairs to the door below.
The dogs are going crazy now. They can smell the rotting stench of our flesh as it wafts down the stairwell with our compatriots. They can hardly bear the torment of waiting the moments before the door will open and our emaciated flesh becomes their feast!
" Maybe they will listen, and it will be alright" one of us said. No one responded. It would not be alright.
"Open this door!" the soldier again demands, moments before it crashes with a thundering, splintering of wood, light, and cold fire. The madly flickering beams of their torches flood the lower stairwell now. The greasy light illuminates the man who had gone down to grant them access. I will never forget his face! One of the snarling dogs lunges forward towards him but is jerked back by a thick leash held by its handler. The beast yowls a tortured reproof.
Our compatriot reaches for the door latch that is already gone and falls back against the wall. His arms fly above his head, signaling his surrender as a single deafening point of blood explodes from the center of his forehead and bursts into the darkness, painting the filthy walls a bright crimson. The redness glitters in the light of the open door with a sickening appeal. The soldier holsters his weapon with a deranged grin and moves in toward us as our compatriot crumples limply to the floor. The soldier is clearly in a state of ecstasy due to his victorious discovery of our vermin cache. His superiors will be pleased.
Never close the doors! I tell myself. Never close the doors, but if you do, never ever open them! The soldier was screaming his anger at having to bust down the door. This imperative is still with me today. I dislike closed doors and curtained windows. You never know for certain what's on the other side!
As one malevolent entity, they turn toward the stairwell and slither upwards toward us, again in slow motion, yet with such speed that it makes me nauseous. Both are true. Perhaps due to the angled ceiling or my unwillingness to look up at them due to the fear that had already caused me to soil my sweat-drenched pants, my eyes focused on their legs. Their shiny black boots are indelibly etched in my memory as they flow like a putrid nauseating black tar up the shadowed stairs.
As they come for us, their inhuman forms are highlighted by the flickering of sinister torches as though they lacked definite form. They are more like wraiths than men. My teeth clench at their harsh commands; my head is pounding, spinning. Everything is surreal. The world spins and reels out of control. Perhaps this is why G-d abandoned us I think. It's all chaos now.
Fortunately for us, the dogs remain outside with their handlers. They are in near-feral hysterics now. If they were inside with us, I don't want to think about that. They want to enter our palace in the worst possible way. They demand the spoils of their efforts: our flesh. Just then, one of the beasts is struck with a thud and piteously yelps as its handler brings it into submission. The others become quiet as well. Oh, how I envy those beasts! I think. The dogs will survive; they have a purpose in their existence. They are essential workers, whereas I have no value to anyone, neither G-d nor man.
Up the stairs, the soldiers come. We scooch backward as one pressing our bodies against the cold walls hoping against all hopes that even now, we might somehow disappear unseen to their eyes. Time stands still as the ebony flow roils up the short stairwell vibrating the world around us in a deep thrumming echo.
In that frozen instant, I become aware of my heart beating. How divine. How glorious. How wondrous is a beating heart! But then suddenly, it stops!
All the world freezes in place and time, lost in this reality that certainly must be a dream, a nightmare, a horror story written by some sadistic G-d. The world itself has stopped breathing, and we stare blankly at our enemies, and they look blankly at us. With knees firmly pressed against my chest, I stare vacuously forward with arms around people I don't know. I realize that we can not possibly survive; nothing can help me. No one can or would, not even HaShem, but still, I hold onto them desperately. It is what I can do, and I must do something.
I am utterly alone, abandoned by G-d and man. I am guilty of everything that is happening. I know this. I see it in the soldier's eyes. They know it! It's all my fault! I am guilty. I am guilty of all those who have suffered and died, and I am guilty for those unfortunate enough to be still alive! I no longer care to act like a man. I am guilty, I am damned. (Where's my mother?) Tears flow from my eyes like rivulets from a dead and wasted sea, the sea of my broken soul. I shake and whimper silently, not like the dogs, but silently so that no one can hear me. Not that I care now. But I still make no sound hoping that they might not see me pressed against the shadows even now. I am no one, and I am not here.
Then there is a familiar sound. It draws me back and enfolds me in; could it be? Love? Timidly for sure, haltingly yes, but without a doubt, someone is whispering the Mourner's Kaddish (the prayer for the dead). I turn my head and see an elderly Jew with a long beard and payos holding the dead man's hands. I think his name was Moshe. I listen carefully to the words. They echo in my mind. The soldiers were frozen in place as our tattered minyan uttered the ancient words. I remember our rabbi talking about how we often must die for being the Chosen of G-d. If this is our time to die, it is good that someone is saying kaddish. I listen, my lips mutely mumbling the familiar words.
Молитва об умерших Kaddish Prayer for the Dead קדיש
Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo, b'olmo dee'vro chir'usay v'yamlich malchu'say, b'chayaychon uv'yomay'chon uv'chayay d'chol bais Yisroel, ba'agolo u'viz'man koriv; v'imru Omein.
Y'hay shmay rabbo m'vorach l'olam ul'olmay olmayo.
Yisborach v'yishtabach v'yispoar v'yisromam v'yismasay, v'yishador v'yis'aleh v'yisalal, shmay d'kudsho, brich hu, l'aylo min kl birchoso v'sheeroso, tush'bechoso v'nechemoso, da,ameeran b'olmo; vimru Omein.
Y'hay shlomo rabbo min sh'mayo, v'chayim alaynu v'al kol Yisroel; v'imru Omein. Oseh sholom bimromov, hu ya'aseh sholom olaynu, v'al kol yisroel; vimru Omein.
I exhale with a sigh: Omein. Suddenly rough hands yank me upward by the right arm. The holy words flee as the German spits something I don't understand, then adds Jetzt maden!, "Now maggots!" My left arm is locked tightly to the man huddled at my side. The soldier yanks hard a second time, and my grip gives way. I am reeling toward the right now, the stairs and the darkness below. I instinctively grab for support and catch a soldier's arm, only to steady myself, but...
I open my eyes slowly, tentatively. Am I dead? My head is throbbing; my eyes are puffy. Surely this is not the Olam Haba (the blessed World to Come)! I try to look around, but the world is moving. Everything is jerky and painted in shades of gloomy purples and grays. I can't focus. I close my eyes tight against the fog, wind, and light.
I am being jostled and wedged uncomfortably in place. I can not move my arms. My legs feel trapped, held under some unseen weight, and I can't move them either. I smell bodies: sweat and blood and dung and other things I don't care to think about. I hear sheep bleating in the distance, and I want to yell to them: Shut up! They will hear you! But no sounds will come from my mouth. Saliva, however, is running out and dripping from my chin, and I realize my lower lip is busted open. Perhaps it's not saliva. I've gone insane!
Just then, it occurs to me that I am traveling. I am going somewhere, from somewhere, but I don't remember how I got here or where I'm going. To freedom? I wonder. Not bloody likely. I'm in a wagon or an open-backed truck. That much I know. I hear what could be an engine, so it's probably a truck. A German transport vehicle, I guess with surprisingly little interest. Below me, the floor is pealing greenish-black slats. Someone is talking. To me?
And then everything is gone.
Some go to Auschwitz by train, some by motor vehicle. I don't know how I got there. Nor do I recall being processed or any of the other myriad details involved. They were very meticulous there. What I do recall is the stench. Sometimes I get a momentary whiff of it, even today, and I want to vomit. They say you get used to it after a while, but I never did.
The stench here is suffocating; the pounding noise is deafening. The heat and the flames billow, and I swallow bile. It is as though my insides are becoming a liquid puss, and I am not quite solid. My nose burns and itches. My back aches and my legs work uncertainly without thought or intent, doing what I must. I am here, but I am not.
Dante's Inferno: a painting I recall seeing somewhere... I remember it. It's like that. It frightens me to think that I am there, but that I am here, I can not deny. Is this place Hell? I am not so fortunate.
I'm pulling a wooden cart. Sometimes I push it. The floor is uneven and slick. I must not fall as my right ankle suddenly threatens to buckle. The pain brings me back to fuller consciousness, Baruch HaShem. I start to wipe the sweat from my eyes with one hand, but the cart begins to tilt, and I quickly regain control. I need to pause, but my feet refuse to stop, and I continue onward. Stopping is not an option in any case.
The cart is full of wood. Some pieces are long; some are short; they are all skinny. I am pushing or pulling the cart because it is to be pushed or pulled (pushing and pulling varies, but as long as the cart keeps moving, no one seems to notice or care) - Not being noticed is the way of survival. How long have I been doing this essential work? A day? A week? A year? Nothing matters except the cart being moved and maintaining my pace and the wood being delivered to where it must go. This is essential work, like the dogs' work that discovered us. I am neither grateful nor resentful for this work. I am simply moving the cart because the cart is to be moved.
I am pushing or pulling the cart to its designated destination, and that is all. I care nothing for the wood and even less for the fire it feeds. My care is for the cart and pushing it, so I push or sometimes pull it as I must. That is all. That is my existence, and I am an essential worker.
My head must always be bowed. This, too, is essential, and I am learning. Life is pushing or pulling, my arms aching, my shoulders screaming, my head bowed, and the cart always moving. That is life for me. It is enough. There is no other option.
It is verboten, but sometimes I glance up and see other people pushing similar carts. Some of them are young like me, and some are older. Everyone here is male. There is so much wood to be moved that it takes many strong men, and I am a man. But of course, men like me don't matter, but the carts do, and men push the carts.
My Stomach heaves, but I force it back down without missing a step. There is something bad about the wood in the carts, something unclean. Don't look in the carts!
The wood inside the carts must be pushed to the ovens. I remind myself that this wood must be burned. After all, that's why we push the carts to burn the wood. Nothing else matters. We are fortunate. We are essential workers. They need us to push the bad wood, but that's not why I push my cart. I do it because it must be done; it's essential work. I care nothing for the wood, whether it is burned or not. Caring is the way of death.
We all dress in the same dingy clothing, and we do not question why we push the wood. There are cords and cords of bad wood to be pushed in the carts to the fires that never go out because that is what is to be done with the unclean wood. Except, I know it isn't wood in the carts at all.
I am deathly pale. I feel bloodless, like one of the undead. No! I shake away such foolish thoughts. I am essential. Pushing the cart is the way of life. I turn and resume pushing the cart. But as I do, another cart passes, and a lifeless arm dangles from its side, and there is a scream (from me?) and then...
Everything is a haze of red and orange, vile filth, smoke, and flesh-searing heat, and I remember my mother. I wonder where she is now. What happened to her? I shrug. Caring is the way of death (and I 'push my cart' even though my cart is no longer there).
There is a large gray desk before me. I am so puny before it that I am embarrassed. I stare at the floor in front of the desk. I don't know why I am here, nor exactly where "here" is, nor what the giant wants of me, this man seated behind the big desk. I should be pushing the cart, except I'm confused. I don't know why but I sense I am in trouble; fool that I am. What have I forgotten! I try to remember but to no avail. I pushed the cart, yes, and then I remember the bad wood, and there was a hand, and the man behind the desk, he's angry. He will demand to know, but I can not (allow myself to) remember what he surely already knows. I can only remember the wood that I pushed, and, no, it was not a hand... surely it was decaying wood only, wood does not have hands... it was not a hand, and I feel ashamed at what I will not know, at what I refuse to know. But, you see, if I knew, how could I ever remain alive? What will I tell him? Why is he is silent, staring at me with obvious disgust as if I was a piece of wood: A piece of thin emaciated wood.... Say something!
But truly, I do know what I did: I did whatever they told me to do. I know that it was wrong to push the wood carts, and I feel ashamed for it, but... My heart is breaking; my jaw is clenched tight by quivering, my throat is contracting. My inward parts are shifting upward into my throat. I force myself to stand still before the desk and be a man.
Oh, how can I ever be forgiven? By G-d or by man!
This much I know: I am damned.
There is no forgiveness for me. I stand condemned and unmoving before the grey desk awaiting the man's verdict. I stand, but he says nothing. He leaves, and I continue to stand. He returns, says nothing; I continue to stand. I can not say how long I stood there, nor can I say what happened after my standing ended before the big desk. I don't remember its ending. Now, everything is darkness, and I think months surely passed by in that darkness.
I do remember a train.
Location: Bergen-Belsen:The sun is much too bright. Its burns my flesh. It beats down on my bare head, shoulders, and back. Dripping sweat stings my eyes, but I dare not brush it away. In the distance, I see trees, a beautiful forest. So lovely and cool. I peer. There is a path there. I look longingly at the path and imagine myself strolling aimlessly down it. Have I walked that path before? I think maybe I have. I remember it, but this is not Bulgaria, so it can't be the same path.Also see my Shoah Child piece!
Perhaps the path goes everywhere, maybe even to my home. I consider this. But, how did I get there? That path is so lovely and cool. If only I could reach that path, I would run forever and ever and ever, and no one would ever see me again until I reached ... the Holy Land! Surely the path leads there. But... But I cannot reach the path. And even if I could, I am not worthy of treading upon it, even if I could reach it, because of what I did, what I have abandoned, what I have forgotten, and the decaying wood. And because I am damned, mostly that, and because I am cut off from my people. I am beyond forgiveness. But still, I look at the cool trees and the path, and I sigh.
Much closer than the path is the soldiers. They would not allow such freedom to anyone, even if I could get there. Which I can't. Which I am not worthy of. Even if I hadn't done what I did, I would feel such remorse that I will never be able to purge through teshuvah and Tehillim [i.e., repentance and prayers]. And I know that I will never again be able to walk that path.
My legs ache and tremble in the burning sun. I glance down at my right foot. It is inflamed and swollen. Most of my body has become dangerously thin, thinner, for I was never large. I notice without interest that I am naked. My ribs show through my skin, but at least I'm not hungry anymore - I have left such luxuries as hunger behind - Now, I am hunger itself. My ankle is bloated and throbbing. Why am I here?
Cautiously I glance to my left and right, careful not to move my head, for that is not allowed. They're still there: those soldiers. And so many people, I muse. All are standing naked in the burning sun. Not the soldiers, of course, I note. The Jews. Are they all Jews? I think so. We're mainly men, but a few women are here too, mostly really old ones. How long have we been standing here like this? I don't know. My naked body is coated with brownish-red dirt, and my hands are stained with dried blood and mud, and... My hands burn fiercely, but not from the sun; at least, it's a feeling I muse. It doesn't matter; nothing matters. My eyes glance forward into the distance again. How I wish I could run to that trail and never stop until I get to the Kotel. Indeed the trail leads there...
One of the soldiers lights a cigarette, and another approaches him. He says something to him in that sound that they make, takes an offered smoke. They smile vacantly.
How I wish I had a cigarette! [i.e. because real men smoke] Perhaps if I ask respectfully.
The one with the shiny cigarette case looks at me. He nudges his comrade, who also looks at me with utter contempt. I look quickly down, they can't see me, they can't see me, I affirm silently as the sweat in my eyes burns and my fat ankle throbs, and my mouth puckers, dry. Again I tell myself: I will be a man. I will be a man. They can't see me. They can't see me. They can't see me!
There's something that I know I know. What is it? If only I could remember, I could get away, but I cannot remember. I would tell them if I knew. But for the life of me, though, I can't remember. That memory tortures me to this day.
An eternity passes.
The never-setting sun burns my blistered skin, and I hazard another glance up. The soldiers have moved on now. No one is looking at me now, and I relax, just a bit.
Suddenly, a hand grabs my lower arm momentarily and then releases:
"Shlomo! Don't fall!" It's the man on my left. "Live!"
I look at him briefly and wanly smile. My foot feels like it's on fire. I note that it has turned purple. How odd, I think, a purple foot. I'm becoming delirious. I think my head is throbbing, and the world is reeling, but I am steady on my feet. My empty gut is feeding on itself, and I am standing because standing is what is to be done. Standing naked in the burning sun with my purple foot burning hotter than my blistered back and shoulders.
I glance up at the pit that lies before us, between us and the cool forest and the trail, and it is then that I realize why I am so dirty and why my hands are bleeding. I remember what I have done for them before and now. What they made me do is all I did, but still, I know that even HaShem could never forgive me now. He is gone away anyway. He has abandoned the earth. But who could blame Him?
And I know that I can never walk down that forest path because of what I did.
There is no hope for me. There is no hope for anyone who has been cast aside by his people.
I am an outcast.
But still, I look at the trail, at the pit, and then down again at my purple foot. Guilt wells up within me from some hidden fount, and I think I will surely explode! This is more than I can bear. Silently I mourn for what I did. But no tears come. Not because I am a man, but because no tears remain. Tears imply hope. I am empty. There is no hope.
In my mind, I hear the man at the Palace saying Kaddish: It's good someone is saying Kaddish. But it's a shame I didn't die then; before I did what I did. 'Don't say kaddish for me; it's too late.' I whisper to the universe. The universe, like G-d, does not reply.
If only I could remember... but I cannot.
Suddenly the ground beneath me is gone, and I am falling, falling, falling...
And at last, I am free.
Liberating Bergen Belsen | April 1945
Tour of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau: