Thursday, April 19, 2012

Yom HaShoah

GTS Chapel

Wednesday night I attended an interfaith service, in observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, at General Theological Seminary in Chelsea.

The service was conducted by GTS faculty & students along with Jewish clergy members.  Acolytes lit eleven taper candles in the middle of the chapel - six candles for the 6 million Jews who perished, and five candles representing the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.  We sang some songs (mostly psalms), did some responsive reading.  A rabbi gave a short homily, and then a survivor told his story, which sounded like a movie - narrow escapes, falsified papers, the French resistance.  But the horror was real.  The service ended with Kaddish, and a recitation of the names of each of the camps, as the chapel bells tolled.

I visited Auschwitz, a couple of years ago, on my trip to Eastern Europe.  Though I took tons of pictures in Budapest, Vienna, Krakow - I took very few pictures while at Auschwitz.  Maybe three, total.  I knew then that I wouldn't really want to look at pictures of the camp later; wouldn't care to show them to others.

On the one hand, it's too ugly a thing to photograph - the site of such systemic destruction and death.  On the other hand, it wasn't actually ugly enough - that area of Poland is quite lovely; the day I visited was all expansive blue skies and autumn leaves and fresh air.  You have to squint very hard in your heart to imagine how a setting so pastoral could have been - once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past - so perverse.

Photographs won't serve the purpose.  You have to remember in other ways.

I'm glad GTS gives space and time to gather in remembrance.  And I thought it rather meaningful to remember in an interfaith context.

At the back of the bulletin for the service were some quotations that I also found meaningful - thoughts on interconnectedness and interdependence.  Thoughts on how we need each other:

"There is not one survivor who did not find support and help among fellow prisoners.  No one could have survived on his own physical and mental strength." 
- Anna Pawelcynska, Values & Violence in Auschwitz: A Sociological Analysis

"The truth is...they survived because they were carried by someone, someone who cared for them as much, or almost as much for themselves." 
- Richard Glazar, Treblinka survivor

"Everyone who returned knows that without others, she would not have come back.  By others, we mean those members of our group who hold you up, or carry you when you can no longer walk, those who help you hold fast when you are at the end of your rope." 
- Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz survivor

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