A visit to Buchen­wald

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - PASSOVER -

From Take It Like a Soldier: A Mem­oir, by Vic­tor Geller: We ar­rived at Buchen­wald two and a half weeks af­ter lib­er­a­tion of the camp, al­most ex­actly a month fol­low­ing our makeshift field Seder. We were stand­ing un­der the low arch­way of the main en­trance, just be­low the mock­ing sign “Ar­beit Mach Frei/ La­bor Will Set You Free.” The en­tire regiment had come in a long con­voy, on the orders of Gen. Eisen­hower, our com­man­der-in-chief. To his everlastin­g credit, he said it was im­por­tant for Amer­i­cans reared in de­cency to see and re­mem­ber the hor­rors of the con­cen­tra­tion camps.

A sur­vivor ap­proached slowly, with some hes­i­ta­tion. “Jewish?” he asked our group of 20 GI’s [Amer­i­can sol­diers]. “Ich bin a yid/ I am a Jew” I replied. He of­fered to es­cort us around the camp and I would trans­late for our group.

We ar­rived at a one-story brick struc­ture un­der a sharply gabled, red tile roof. All seemed nor­mal – save for the chim­ney. It was a mas­sive rec­tan­gu­lar brick tower 60 feet high. We fol­lowed our sur­vivor-guide into the House of Death, the Buchen­wald cre­ma­to­rium.

No one spoke. Con­ver­sa­tion was internal and pri­vate. I was try­ing to trans­late my feel­ings into ex­press­ible thoughts. Sud­denly, I found my­self think­ing of my bar mitz­vah back in the Bronx only six years pre­vi­ously. I re­called the fi­nal por­tion of the To­rah por­tion I chanted from De­varim/ Deuteron­omy 25:7 “…Re­mem­ber what Amalek did to you as you left Egypt. How he struck your fee­ble ones in the rear when you were faint and weary. Blot out the mem­ory of Amalek; you shall not for­get.”

I lis­tened at­ten­tively to what our sur­vivor-guide was telling us and trans­lated it for my bud­dies, but I couldn’t com­pre­hend what I was de­scrib­ing. There was no one who could give mean­ing to this place.

Maybe the Jews of Buchen­wald were brothers and sis­ters that I had never met, to whom I was linked by blood, shared and shed. We rode on, but now I car­ried a lifelong mem­ory about this Amalek of our time.

Fif­teen years later, my wife Hanya and I were lead­ing our first of many sum­mer teenage tours of Is­rael, and ac­cord­ing to plan, we stood at Yad Vashem on Tisha Be’Av. Im­ages and mem­o­ries from that ear­lier April 1945 visit to Buchen­wald over­whelmed me. I told the young peo­ple that in en­ter­ing Yad Vashem you have a choice of two ques­tions. You can go in and ask “What hap­pened to them?” Rather, I would sug­gest, you must try to ask your­self: “What did they do to us? If you can ask that ques­tion, then their light was not ex­tin­guished be­cause, by your ques­tion, you are of­fer­ing to pick up and rekin­dle their can­dle, and if you keep re­mem­ber­ing that sec­ond ques­tion, then their can­dle will con­tinue to burn for­ever.” – J.P.

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