By Chaya Schwartz, Germany Close Up Summer 2015 Participant
Frustrated as we zoomed through different points of interest in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp I began to move my toes as though I was drawing a shape. The tour guide was talking, but all I could hear was silence. All I could feel was emptiness and confusion and frustration all mixed in together. Empty of the tears I wanted to cry for my ancestors. Confusion, because I felt so rushed. Frustration at how this could have happened… How so many people could have become so trapped amongst the claustrophobic cemented brick walls, large guard towers and barbed wires surrounding me.
My toes continued to move until a triangle formed in the tiny rocks. It just seemed so natural the way I moved, the way my foot curved and tipped, as though my mind wasn’t in control. What I created resembled the three points we learned to draw as a young child, the symmetry I learned to analyze as a corner in high school math. I wanted so badly to learn more. To see the exhibits displayed. To hear more about my history through the empty spaces, the smelly dining areas and bunkers too small to hold the amount of bodies they did. But I had no time. As I formed a triangle above the upside down one my sneakers created a moment ago, I felt as though I just wanted to erase it all. Like so many nations have tried to erase the identity of those it represents. Like G-d who allowed this horror to take place. Like those who tortured and gassed children before they were able to even learn the many different intricacies of the triangle. As I took a moment to look up, I saw a gentle smile take form on the face of my German guide, as though she saw my heart twisting in angst.
Continuing on to memorials, where I read diary entries and letters from Jewish parents to their children about the Nazi party, my heart tugged again and again.
As we walked through Weißensee cemetery built over a century ago, the stars I’ve come to see on jewelry, on wall posts and in many an art project were visible on numerous tombs. The symbol of a nation. Of a state. Of determination. Of pride. Later on, I cried as I watched a video about the cemetery. Of the hundreds of suicides. Of the stories buried beneath the stones. Of the lives lost and bodies dumped when no one was able to care for the countless burials. Then that star I configured from the stones we use to place on burial plots came to my mind. And I felt sad. For my ancestors. For the stories that were blotted and never finished. For the beauty of my religion that seems to keep creating tension amongst different cultures. I don’t know how to mourn the lost treasured moments. I’m not even quite sure how it all happened, this terrible, monstrous form of events. But as the film came to an end and I took a deep breath, I remembered looking up to see my guide smiling softly. It is then that I feel ready to learn to forgive her people. I felt happy to be living. And appreciative of this chance I’ve been given. Enlightened by all that I’ve learned, no matter how short the time. And proud to be a part of the nation with a star formed from the many broken stones of our history as our emblem.