THE CHILDRENS' TEARS
My tears revealed again the deep sadness I always feel when I enter a Holocaust museum and see the evidence of the estimated 1.5 million children, mostly Jewish, who were executed or died due to the evils of Nazi Germany. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, my wife, Chris, and I revisited the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Sydney. It was the constant drops of water from the ceiling into a bowl, one every second, representing the tears of the murdered children that undid me. Surrounding that sacred space were photographs and names of young victims of Hitler’s evil.
The experience prompted me to retrieve reflections I had written on Auschwitz after returning from Poland in 2018. Chris and I have visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem a number of times, and other Jewish Museums in the Baltic States and other parts of Europe. But to experience Auschwitz … it was different - powerfully confronting.
It was the unexpected that made the difference. When I stepped onto the minibus in Krakow for our transit to Auschwitz, I sat beside a middle-aged couple who said, "We’re from Israel."
Israel! I caught my breath.
A close connection formed between us during the ninety- minute drive. They lived midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; had three adult children and both worked professionally. They asked about our visits to Israel/Palestine.
My respect for their courage grew as we walked gently through the killing grounds. They had delayed their visit to Auschwitz for years until they were mentally strong enough to cope. Near one of the five partially destroyed ovens in Birkenau, the wife turned away from the site with tears in her eyes. Chris embraced her, and our new Jewish friend held her for a long time. As she finally released Chris she said, "I'll never forget that hug." Chris replied, "Neither will I."
As we exited the gate from Birkenau, my emotions rose to another level. Chris and I stood a respectful distance with our Jewish friend while her husband studied photographs on a display panel. She whispered, "Some of his family were murdered here. Also my grandparents and other members of my family were killed here. It's like walking through a cemetery."
Auschwitz suddenly became intensely personal.
The words of the late Nora Huppert echoed in my mind. Nora was a friend and counselling colleague, and a respected member of the Sydney Jewish community. She conducted educational programes in Jewish schools about the Holocaust. Her mantra - “Every generation needs to hear the story. The world must never forget.”