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Searching for Solace

Devoirelle Halberstam

“I came here today, to Auschwitz, to fulfill a request. The last request of a man I knew. He wrote a letter.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I trudge through the mud, drenched by the rain. Drenched by my tears. My shoulders are hunched against the cold, as I gaze at the ground unseeingly. Slowly, heavily, I walk past the barracks toward the crematorium. I feel the finality, knowing that for so many, this was the end. This was where millions of my people perished. This was Auschwitz.

And then we reach the gas chambers. My eyes are transfixed. It’s a mess, a ruin of brick and rubble. Only the occasional twisted metal remains of a pipe testify to the horror of the past. To what was committed against those once living, breathing, happy souls, whose lives were snuffed out by evil.

I see the other members of my group struggling to grasp the enormity of the tragedy. Our heads are bent.

And then I notice her.

She stands slightly further apart, her shoulders shaking. Her hair is covered in a scarf, legs clad in jeans beneath her long raincoat. She is trembling, exuding an air of fragility. I watch as she slowly approaches, her footsteps nervous and hesitant.

She walks over to our tour guide, and stands quiet for a moment, evidently mustering the courage to speak.

“Excuse me.” Her voice is low and slightly hoarse with evidence of a strong Israeli accent. “I couldn’t help noticing your group. I saw the way you were praying.”

“Yes,” our guide replies quietly. “So many lives ended here, so many bodies didn’t even merit a burial, a grave. We’re praying for them, the unknown dead, who will never have a relative pray at their tombstone.”

The woman is quiet for a moment. Her hands are twisting uneasily and I notice a piece of paper clutched tightly in her fist.

She struggles to speak. “I came here today, to Auschwitz, to fulfill a request. The last request of a man I knew. Ovadia ben Malka.” Her voice breaks.

 

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