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The Greatest Answer

Credit for photo: Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA
Credit for photo: Cnaan Liphshiz, JTA
Almost 15 years ago, my oldest child told me she needed me. I was presented with a request. Come with me to Poland; I can’t go alone. Of course, she wasn’t going to go alone, but rather with a whole group, but she didn’t feel that she could face what she was going to see there and wanted me with her. What could I do? I had a very small child that also needed me. It was, for a mother, an agonizing moment. Ultimately, it came down to which one needed me more, not just at that moment, but into the future.

The 2-year-old would cry for her mother, and she did. But a week later, I would be back and she wouldn’t remember, and she doesn’t. But my older one was descending into the hell of the Holocaust. She would be exposed to the ugliest, the worst of man. How could I let her go “alone”? And so I went.

I expected to be her support; I never realized she would be mine. I expected to hold her as she cried; I didn’t know I would need her just as much. We both descended into hell. We saw the ashes, the smashed tombstones, the mass graves that even today, sometimes surrender bones during heavy rains.

There were a few times I felt fury not just at the Germans of the past but of the Poles in the present. I don’t remember the order but I do remember the incidents. I was very angry at the Polish couple that felt seeking privacy to cuddle and kiss in an almost abandoned Jewish cemetery was appropriate and even that we were bothering them by coming to pay our respects. I was completely confounded at the site of new homes built just outside Maidanek. Who chooses to live next to a concentration camp? And how do you give directions, “Go to Maidanek and hang a left”? And, oh God, I thought, how do you make a barbecue on the handsome deck you have there with crematoria in the distance.

I was angry at the villagers in Jedwabne who intentionally attempted to disrupt a ceremony commemorating the 1,500 Jewish villagers that THEY murdered in August, 1941. They are angry because the world caught their subterfuge in claiming that the Nazis murdered the Jews, who were rounded up and murdered before the Nazis even arrived in their town. And finally, when I saw the sign outside Auschwitz, I was sickened. “Museum”? Museum? People died there. My great-grandmother and my grandfather’s two sisters. My husband’s grandparents, and aunts, and uncles, and so so many others. Museum? Have you ever been in a museum where millions of people were murdered? Where the ashes remain?

Today, reading a news story, I felt all these emotions. Anger, confusion, bewilderment, fury and sickness to the depths of my soul. In a place where 5,000 Jews were murdered, the Lithuanians have opened a wedding hall. People dance and celebrate over the bones and the blood of my people.

Today, there are less than 2,000 Jews living in Lithuania. Of the 250,000 Jews that lived there before World War II, less than 45,000 survived. In what is claimed to be the worst mass killing in Lithuanian history, 5,000 Jews were murdered at the Ninth Fort and it is there that today, Lithuanians are choosing to get married, party and send their children to summer camp.

For the first two or three days I was in Poland, I kept going over to our Israeli tour guides and asking them why this graveyard wasn’t moved to Israel, given the desecration we were seeing before our eyes. It was only in Maidanek, before the Mountain of Ashes, which, amazingly enough really is filled with human ashes that I turned in sadness to the Israelis and, close to tears yet again, acknowledged “there isn’t enough room in all of Israel for them, is there?”

There was a measure of peace for me when I finally stopped counting, stopped trying to think how we could bring these graves home with us. I finally resigned myself to the reality that their bones would remain in Europe, even if their souls came with us as we reclaimed our ancient and now modern homeland.

No, in our small country, we can’t bring home the remains of over 6 million Jews. We can’t beat the sickness that is infested to the depths of their souls. We will never be able to save all the concentration camps, the cemeteries, the synagogues, the yeshivot. We can’t even save one stupid little place in Lithuania where the memory and the bones of 5,000 Jewish souls are being desecrated regularly.

I could be petty and wish each person who celebrates there untold suffering but I won’t. Hatred poisons the person who carries it ever so much more than the person to which it is aimed. I won’t live with hatred. I won’t live with anger. The sickness and this latest affront will go away in a very short while because I’m going to walk away from it…by walking to something.

I’m going to go outside my building and walk down Rechov Yaffo in the very center of Jerusalem and a bit later, I’m going to look at the ancient walls of the Old City, a place that is thriving and alive. I’m going to watch the sunset over my beautiful country and know that those 5,000 souls have long since departed from Lithuania.

Let them celebrate among the ashes; let their weddings start on the bones of my brothers. The truth is that as Jews we know that we leave behind this world for the next; we believe in a more perfect world that exists just beyond this one and what we do in this one determines the greatest rewards we will receive in the next world.

The murderers, the haters, those that created the ugliest of deeds, those that sanctioned them, cheered them, or even were silent in the face of them – it is nothing. The Jews aren’t there any more. They’ve come home to the beauty and the sunshine of our land.

The greatest answer to the Lithuanians and their new wedding hall and to the Poles and their museums is playing in the hills of Judea right now. He is five years old and he is just a bit over a year old and she is two years old and that another yet to be born and, God willing many more. These are my grandchildren. Israelis. Jews. Home.

There will never be another Holocaust. Not because they won’t try but because we are vigilant, we are here. Have your weddings, spread your sickness. Cuddle on Jewish graves and barbecue near the ashes.

We who survived, we who came home. We dedicate ourselves again and again, with each insult, with all the pain, we remember. They are not forgotten and the desecration is nothing to the honor we pay to them simply by living, by bringing new Jewish children into this world who carry their names, who honor all that they loved.

About the author

Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
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