Alumni reflection: Liz Pearl, Canada, 2014

Nothing Makes Sense ‒‛Never Again’

Excerpts from My Journal from MOL 2014

Liz Pearl

 

Water: Rain and Tears

The day after we arrive in Poland is Shabbat and we take a guided walking tour through the streets of Warsaw in the rain. At some point the rain changes from a light drizzle to a downpour; we remain steadfast in our traipse through the capital city to reach the infamous ghetto. Our shoes are soaking, our oversized MOL blue rain jackets are totally drenched and we are swooshing through the slippery streets of the Warsaw ghetto. We arrive at the historic remaining brick fragment of the Warsaw Ghetto Wall. Our jet-lagged bodies are damp and our clothes are heavy with rainwater. We close our eyes and try to imagine the crowds of Polish Jews scrambling through the mud to find a scrap of food or a tiny dry resting spot. Moments later we stand soaked at the granite Ghetto Heroes Monument to the fallen heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Again we close our eyes and try to visualize life as it was, on either side of the memorial. It’s unimaginable, and some of our grandparents were there, on the sodden ground we stand. Nothing makes sense.

We slip and slide through the streets of Warsaw. Like silly children we playfully skip and splash through the puddles. We want to forget where we are. We cannot. We remember our pledge─ ‘Never Again’. We lift our overtired faces to the cloudy sky and feel the cool rain drops cleanse our bitter tears of anguish.

Feet

Teenaged feet ‒ clad in trendy Converse, comfy Uggs and stylish combat or leather hiking boots. We walk the short distance from the touring bus into the notorious memorial forest. Surrounded by bright green grass, along the cement path we pass a local young dad, relaxed, strolling along with his smiling baby. An adorable little kid, kicking up his tiny feet, as active babies often do. The familiar gesture warms my heart as I recall strolling through neighbourhood parks with my own toddlers.

How can this be? My mind and my memory are playing tricks with me.

Reluctantly, we make our way into Buczyna forest near Zbylitowska Gora─the children’s forest─filled with majestic tall green trees, just outside the village of Tarnov. We enter Yaar Yeladim and we hear the heart-wrenching testimony of a child Holocaust survivor. She is participating in the March of the Living for the first time. She is broken, standing proudly with sharp pain in her tired feet and living with deep pain in her soul. And my heart hurts along with her chronic pain.

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A walk in the park, deep in the forest, children are massacred. We imagine innocent children with little feet walking alongside Nazis marching in black leather boots. We can hear the echo of their bitter cries in the wind. Nothing makes sense.

Shoe storage at Majdanek. We guide the MOL kids, suggesting they focus on one pair of shoes. I fixate on a pair of toddler shoes. My eyes are glued to the worn-out leather booties. Tentatively, I wiggle my finger under the display case protective wire and feel the blackened decades-old leather. The soles worn down, the sullied laces frayed. As I close my damp eyes I try to imagine the steps taken by this tiny young child from the safety of a loving home to the uncertainty of the ghetto to an inconceivable death camp ‒ a horrifying journey beyond comprehension. My heart is so heavy I can barely stand on my own feet. I am staring clueless at my feet because I can’t seem to move. Nothing makes sense.

Numbers

Each MOL participant is given a number for roll call and each chaperone carries a pocket-sized laminated master list for attendance. Number off! Again, faster! I cannot stand this daily exercise. A security logistics protocol we must follow. Somehow we all get through it. Jewish children should not be numbered. Never again. Nothing makes sense.

Auschwitz. Birkenau. Belzec. Majdanek. Treblinka. We teach the students to focus on the individual not the massive numbers. Numbers of Jews murdered. Families, villages, shtetls, towns, names, shoes, eyeglasses, hair, suitcases. None of us can make any sense of the numbers; and we try. The numbers are mindboggling. Our mantra becomes “the more we see the less we understand.” My mind is paralyzed with the enormity of the numbers. Nothing makes sense.

Interview one survivor. Remember one testimony. Honour one name. Learn one family history. Do one good deed. Recite one prayer. Offer one blessing. Make one new friend.

Some survivors show us the tattooed numbers on their forearms. Their identification numbers will never be erased and we must remember their stories forever. This is our vow. ‘Never Again’.

Names

What is your given name? Family name?  English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish names. What is the name of the individual you are marching for? Mass graves are nameless. Tombstones, memorial stones bearing anonymous names. Lost names, forgotten names. The Book of Names at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Shoah exhibit is a shocking sight, thousands of pages filled with names. So, so many names. Nothing makes sense.

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Words

Our experience on the March of the Living is beyond words. We cannot possibly find adequate words to make any sense of what we have heard and seen. But now, we are witnesses; so we must search for the words. This is our commitment, our pledge and our legacy. ‘Never Again’. 

How do we find the words? We listen. We whisper. We talk. We text. We share. We process. We cry. We remember. We sing. We pray. We write. Sometimes we are silent; often words are not enough, and that’s ok too. Nothing makes sense, but deep within ourselves we say, ‘Never Again’. This is our pledge. The pledge of the March of the Living.

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