The remnants of the chambers, which flanked the memorial space looked like skeletal scars, exposed and laying one shallow story into the earth. Leaving the memorial I walked up the rails and across the 'Rampe'. Israeli youth wrapped in Israeli flags with arms bound in leather bands began to sway and sing. In the days leading up to the visit there had been considerable talk regarding how we would feel, and what we would or wouldn't be able to process. Up until this moment I hadn't really granted myself the mental privacy from my own expectations. Gravel crunched beneath my feet like a baseline as I snap through and around the fading voices of small clusters walking around me. The chimneys swing past my peripheral vision and they looked like obelisks, equidistant and somber behind layers of barbed wire. I notice first, before most everything else, that I'm walking in the opposite direction. I'm not sure if a flow or traffic of history had been so apparent to me before. I don't know what grain exists 70 years later, but it felt somehow visceral as I walked against it. I knew it was a secret that separated myself from them. That secret spun of human capability and darkness. Confirmed by the direction I was able to walk, I felt I wasn't able to understand or witness much.
While following the rails back, a particular photograph that hung in the sauna building revisited me: A wedding day, white dress, beautiful round face, thin wedding band on a finger clutching a small glass of dark wine. She looked like my wife before anyone else. The face had a smile with a smirk of irreverent love. Thinking about this woman, and everyone represented across the wall of confiscated photos, I wondered how many lives considered and hoped that what was happening around them was temporary. A frightening stall from normal life, a press of some transcendent pause button. The right of life, that first layer and what its theft might have meant was translated to me by photographs of picnics, walks, weddings and holidays. Proof of life interrupted and in most cases never resumed.
Walking back to the gate it seemed like the appropriate form for what I had learned and felt, would be to live my days in reverence for those never realized. I wanted to preserve what was growing within; this esteem and devotion for the universal right of life whose violation had brought so many to this place. I'm not sure how I'll keep it with me, but the details from those photographs should lead me in the right direction I think: a sunny day, a clutched arm, a favorite jacket, a family gathered around a familiar table, a proud portrait or a smile behind a raised glass.
(I was able to visit these places in Poland with the help of the Auschwitz Jewish Center's Program for Students Abroad and the American Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. For more information on these two organizations and
upcoming programs for students abroad, please visit the url's below or email Dara Bramson at DBramson@mjhnyc.org)