The Pain In My Throat

There were at least 30 of them just standing there, listening to the tour guide talk about the room they were about to walk into.

Some of them looked between 60 and 70. Some of them looked much older. All of them however were speaking very heavy German. I’ve been to Germany before but this was a sort of different German. It was the type of old, rustic, 2 generations ago German that I’ve only heard a few times in my life. One time when my grandparents said a few words in the language and another time when I was visiting Frankfurt Germany for the 2006 world cup.

This group was about to walk into the room that I had just left. A room that left me with a sharp pain in my throat and no matter how many times I would go back into this room, I knew that sharp pain would always come back.

Auschwitz. Dachau. Treblinka. Birkenau. Bergen Belsen.

These were some of the names of the death camps that Nazi Germany built and used to kill over 6 million Jews, many of which were my relatives.

(I don’t know if the picture above are actual relatives of mine, but with the same last name they must have been related to me at some point in time, right?)

The names of these camps were also engraved on the floor of this remembrance hall. It was a special room of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

As I walk out of this remembrance hall, I can hear the elderly group very softly asking the tour guide questions in German. It was refreshing to see a group like this visiting the museum in hopes of learning more about those horrible years. Inquisitively asking questions. Looking upon their tour guide and consuming every word as if they wanted to imagine what it would be like to actually be there.

..actually be there..

They were probably about the same age as my grandparents both of which are holocaust survivors.

And that’s when I stopped to turn around.

Then my brain started to fire off questions..

Were they Nazi soldiers?
Did they help the Nazis?
Were they civilians?
What did the see?
What did they hear?
What did they do?
What didn’t they do?

These questions kept bouncing around in my mind. I walked away and concluded that they were probably just innocent bystanders of the war having little or no involvement.

And that is precisely the moment when I felt the worst.

How is anyone innocent when they silently stand by while pure evil or injustice is happening around them? How is anyone innocent when people are packed in to cattle cars only to be shipped off to death camps?

And that brings me to today.

Our world is fucked up. Although we think the world is a better place, which it is, there is still a lot of hate and injustice floating among us. Bullying, antisemitism, racial stereotyping. Even at a lesser degree we see injustice happening in places like work, school, and politics.

And yet many of us including myself sit by and do nothing.

Today we have Facebook, Twitter, blogs (like this one), and it is extremely easy, physically speaking, to take a position and speak out against something you disagree with even if it is only 140 characters long. This is happening all over the world today. It is the cause of new revolutions and uprisings from places like the middle east to places like China. This past week alone we saw a 14 year old girl stand up to Al Queda using her blog.

During the Holocaust there wasn’t an easy way to share information and stand up for something at a large scale. There were many German civilians, and even Jews, that stood by and did nothing.

Seventy years later there are German citizens who are donating their entire estates to Israel due to the guilt that went along with their actions or inactions. Seventy years later I witnessed firsthand the guilt that went along with those actions or inactions.

If we see injustice happening we should use the means around us to take a stand.

Standing up for something today is much better than standing over a memorial tomorrow.

The Day I Escaped Death

I’m rounded up with 12 others and we’re being escorted to a church. The others are quite. They don’t know why they were just abducted from their daily routine and I don’t know either. It looked like some were only on their way to the market and some were on their way to school, like me. I’m only 15. What could they possible want from me? The soldiers are bringing us to a church on the other side of town, but what for? It wasn’t too long ago that they occupied our town and disrupted our lives. I don’t understand. Why are we going to a church? Something is off. This doesn’t seem right. I need to get out of here. I need to run. I must run. I have to run NOW.

I take off in a sprint and I know the soldiers are running after me. Chasing me. Hoping they can round me up and bring me back with the others.  I don’t look back though because I’m afraid it will slow me down. I keep running. I make my way back to the center of town and look for a place to hide but I’m not really sure where to go. I need to get off of the streets. I need to be inside. Houses!

I start knocking on the doors of the locals. The first house is white with a red door. I hear people inside but they won’t let me in. I move on to the next house. They open the door at least but also won’t let me in. House after house I’m rejected. Is it because of my age? My clothes? There is still nowhere to hide until finally someone welcomes me into their home. I can see the fear on their face though. Their mild reluctance to let me in. Their hesitation. How could they not be afraid? I’m out of breath and desperate for a place to hide. I would fight them right now if they won’t let me in, but they do. They finally let me in and I sit on the floor to catch my breath.

Hours go by. I haven’t returned home from school and my family must be worried. They don’t know where I am but I can’t go home. I can’t leave yet because it’s too dangerous. I must stay here for the night at least until the soldiers have given up on my search. If they are even searching for me at all. Yes, I need to stay here and I’ll go home in the morning.

When the sun rises I know its safe to make my way back home but I’m compelled to go back to the church first. I need to see what they wanted from us and what awaited for us at the church.


The earth is bright red and there is a giant, fresh mound of dirt. I have never seen anything like this before. A mass grave.  I was just with these people. I was one of these people.

I feel sick. Confused. Lucky.

I run again, but this time I run home and when I get there I know my life will never be the same.

It’s 1940. Germany has invaded our small town in Poland I’m terrified of what will be next….

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance day and this story is one of many my grandfather has from the Holocaust. There is one saying that all holocaust survivors and family members have engrained in their DNA and that saying is “never forget.”  I know I will never, ever forget.

The Last Jew of Vinnytsia
The Last Jew of Vinnytsia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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