My pilgrimage has ended, but my heart has been transformed for a lifetime.
What led me to this journey?
When I learned a year or so ago that many ‘Dambrots’ were murdered in the Shoah – the Holocaust – when I saw with my own eyes in the chronicles of the Holocaust Museum Yad va Shem in Jerusalem name after name of my father’s relatives whose life was extinguished by the Nazi regime, God called me.
God called me to visit these places of their murder, to honor and mourn them, to be witness to the depravity of the human heart at its most base, and to plant in my heart that bond through the generations. Cousins deported from Paris to Auschwitz. Relatives in the most closed, walled-off ghetto, in Lodz, who died either in that hellhole or by transport to the Chelmno or Auschwitz camps.
Incredibly, the story continues in and with hope. Firstly, that Hitler’s dream of Europe being ‘Judenrein’, or free of Jews, did not occur. Those who survived went on to live, to have families, and to continue the traditions and laws of their forebears.
And secondly, for me, the resurrection hope I proclaim in Christ, the narrative of my faith, the faith I am blessed to remember at the altar – that hope refuses to die in the face of the human depravity that was Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer – and his officers, troops, and the ordinary man and woman who sat by and did not act, and in reality often joined Hitler’s dream, donning informs and leading mass shootings, gassings, and the burning of corpses in the methodical and efficient Nazi manner.
One of the most touching moments of this journey came for me at the event held at Birkenau. A group of 11,000 people marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, where the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz were located, and a program was presented there. A hand-written Torah was nearly complete, and the last six letters were to be hand-written by a scribe on the stage. Large screens allowed all to witness the writing.
The scribe sat with the Torah, a line of Shoah survivors behind him. Gently he called one by one over, patting his own hand gently, as if to say, place your hand here, over mine. The survivor would put his hand over the scribe’s as he wrote a letter, symbolically having the survivor write the letter. It was so very beautiful. And so meaningful, the last sentence of the Torah, a blessing: for all …the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel. Yes.
I will not forget that moment. The completed Torah will now march with all future “March of the Living” annual pilgrimages to Poland. What a blessing in itself.
I honor also the Righteous among the Nations, those who did act to hide Jews, feed them, join the resistance, in the face of their own persecution, risking their own and their families’ lives. Those such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor who returned from the safety of the United States to Germany and was part of the plot to assassinate Hitler – one of many that failed. For that, he gave his life. Sister Edith Stein, convert from orthodox Jewry who declined safety in Switzerland and wound up in the cattle cars to her death. And so many others.
And let us never forget that millions of others perished in the Holocaust also. Political prisoners, gays, Romas, clergy, resistance fighters, among many.
The profound question for my own reflection, perhaps for yours, is:
What would I have done?
What would I do now?
May God bless and keep us, enlarge our hearts and make us one.
My relatives murdered in the Shoah:
Dambrod, Alexandra Aleksandra
Dambrot, Sarah Esther
Kott, Sarah Esther
yes, some have no first names even listed.
And so I mourn those who perished with the traditional Mourner’s Kadish:
Yit’ga’dal v’yit’kadash she’me ra’bba, Amen, be’alma dee’vera chir’ute ve’yamlich malchu’te, veyasmach purkane vikarev meshihe b’chayechon uv’yome’chon
uv’chaye d’chol bait Yisrael, ba’agala u’viz’man kariv; ve’imru Amen.
Y’he sheme rabba m’varach l’alam ule’alme almaya.
Yitborach v’yishtabach v’yitpaar v’yitromam v’yitnase, v’yithadar
v’yit’aleh v’yitalal, sheme d’kudsha, berich hu, Amen. Le’ala min kal birchata v’sheerata tush’bechata v’nechemata, da,ameeran b’alma; veimru Amen.
Ye’he shelama rabba min she’maya, chayim veshava vishua venehama vezesava
urfua ugoola uslicha vehapara verevah vehatzala lanu ulhol amo Yisrael; ve’imru
Amen.Oseh shalom bimromav, hu berahamav ya’aseh shalom alenu, ve’al kol amo
yisrael; veimru Amen.
Exalted and hallowed be G-d’s great name in this world of His creation. Amen. May His will be fulfilled by the revelation of His sovereignty and the flowering of His salvation. Amen.
May He hasten the coming of His anointed Messiah in your lifetime and in the life of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon; and say ye, Amen. Be His great name blessed for ever, yea, throughout eternity. The name of the most Holy One be blessed, praised and honored, extolled and glorified, adored and supremely exalted beyond the power of all blessings; and
say ye, Amen.
May peace abundant descent from heaven, with life and plenty, healing, solace, liberation, rescue and deliverance, atonement and forgiveness, redemption and salvation, for us and all God’s people Israel; and say ye, Amen. May He who creates the harmony of the spheres, in His tender love create peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen.