Monday, October 15, 2007

One Child, Remembered

One Child, Remembered
By Yosef Lewis

In recollections of Holocaust literature by a younger self, Poland is a dark,
menacing place, a land of terrible facts, its streets paved with the headstones
culled from graves of the defenseless. A land fertilized with the ash of innocents.
A malignant evil to be forgotten, but always remembered.

The indelible stigma stuck. If I were ever to journey to that accursed land, it
would be to reclaim a Jewish pride once lost by the downcast countenances of the
Nazis' dehumanized victims. Pride, I felt, that would be restored with an indignant
stare at a neighbor who once stood idly by, saying with my speechless eyes more then
a million spoken words.

But now I feel only the silence of the unwritten word. Rays of shining sun are
splashing over our car, and in a freshly cut field a lone stork nibbles on leftovers
from the recent harvest. A growing stink wafting through window relays the smell of
freshly laid fertilizer. I notice the decrepit roads of yesteryear quickly turning
into the smooth highways we so take for granted in America.

In a rebuilt Warsaw, flashy Mercedes racing through the streets, buses a most awful
shade of yellow. The Tower of Culture looms over the city's skyline, a vapid and
weird present from Comrade Stalin to the people of Poland, the ugly bastard child of
a forgotten marriage. A funny communion of old and new can be seen on every street
corner. New, brightly lit grocery stores with the unlikely sight of a babushka's
selling sad bunches of wilted scallions and bouquets of summer flowers in their
doorways. Sleek 18-wheeler milk trucks stopped dead in their tracks by a lone
milking cow slowly drudging across the road.

And so I found myself walking through Sieradz, my grandmother's town, a town only
found by a most circuitous route from Warsaw, oh so calmly.

Our translator "shibbitzed" (a term coined in light of the prevalent "shibing" that
is found in just about every Polish word) with an older couple. Lounging on a lazy
Sunday afternoon with family. "You want to talk with the old man up the road, he
remembers the Nazis" the husband says.

I strained to understand the quick chatter between the translator and the old man.
Spittle flying from his mouth and a lone tooth had me fixated. "When they came, the
Jews were quickly herded into a small ghetto, no communication or trade were
allowed." Though interesting, the story of ghettoization was one I'd heard many

But then, swallowing hard he began tell the story of the final Aktion ("operation").
"We weren't all bad, we tried to help." A small gasp, a trickle of a tear. "The red
church you saw in the middle of town had its doors locked, all of Sieradz's Jews
crammed inside" wiping his finger across his nose, as tears streamed more steadily
down his face. "The doors were locked for two weeks, screams and cries of thirst
haunting the whole town. When they finally opened the door a stench spewed from
inside, feces and dead bodies sprawled about in cadence of horror. But slowly and
unbelievably a child staggered out, his face pallid and white, the face of death."
By now the old man's face was a wet mess as he wept the horrible memory. "A SS man
nonchalantly walked up to the child, and grabbing him by his legs, flung him in onto
the street in the path of a passing army jeep."

Parched wind pushed loudly through the car's open window, draining whatever remained
of the day's energies, as I thought over the day's experiences. Realizing, slowly,
that I did not need to look upon Bubby's neighbors with righteous indignation, as
the burning shame of passivity was alive and well, sixty years later, without my
stare. Crystallizing slowly over time has been the singular obligation of telling
the story of that child's last moments. Though not dissimilar to the ending of the
rest of the six million, every record is a truth, and I doubt that this nameless
child has been remembered since his horrible death. May this record be his Kaddish.

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