In a bizzare coincidence, a local handiman was at my house on Thursday, and as he was leaving, I was making small talk with him. It was then that he told me that he was a concentration camp survivor - I didn't even know he was Jewish. He and his twin sister were 6 when they were taken. His sister got separated from him during a death march; his mother killed herself in the camp. He was miraculously reunited with his sister something like 40 years after they separated. He was saying this matter of factly, with very little visible emotion. As always, whenever I hear these stories, and I seem to hear them all the time, my heart contacts in pain, and a sickly feeling comes over me.
I've always been puzzled by the fact that growing up in the Ukraine, I had never encountered any concentration camp survivors. It was only when I came to the US that I met Jews from Europe, survivors, with numbers tattood on their arms and stories of their personal hells. I think I have finally figured out the answer - by the time the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, they were no longer interested in putting Jews on trains and sending them to camps in Poland. It was too much work. Instead, their killing squads, the Einsatzgruppen would find a pit or a field, and machine gun the Jews on the spot or perhaps lock them in a building and set them on fire. This happened pretty much in every town and shtetl, culminating of course in the massacre at Babiy Yar.
Words fail me, yet silence is not an option. More needs to be said about the human capacity for evil, and the human capacity for good when surrounded by evil, about hope and despair, and about inaction and hypocrisy, both then and now. Stay tuned.