April 19, 2012

A Moment of Silence

10 am. Thursday, April 19, 2012. 

A siren wails. We stop and stand in silence.  Children close their math books, their small chairs scraping the floor as they stand. Doctors put down their stethoscopes and pause. Cab drivers stop on the highways. Busses screech to a halt, passengers put down their Sudoku,  fold their newspapers, close their cell phones.  TV commercials hawking the driest diapers flicker off.

Sirens wail from Eilat to Kiryat Shemona and from Tel Aviv’s bustling bursa stock exchange to the dusty cow sheds in the Jezriel Valley. We stop. We think. We remember. We cry. 

In Poland just one month ago, I stood in fields that are filled with the bones, the ashes, the screams and the fears of millions of innocent souls. Of mothers whose hands were torn from their children, of small babies whose light bodies were tossed in the air, fair game for target practice, of bright young men who were entitled to many years to accomplish, to contribute, to love and to laugh; and whose futures were snuffed before their lives even began.

We do not even know many of their names. Entire families were wiped out. Villages erased. Communities that had flourished for 500 years  disappeared.  17,000 of them.  All that remains are 17,000 jagged rocks in the killing fields of Treblinka, the town’s names etched in stone.

Forest outside Tykocyn where 1,700 Jews were shot one August morning.
And these fields and death camps are now silent, mute;  thick branches of trees in the dense Polish forests that once camouflaged death and brutality as ‘cargo’ was ‘liquidated’ still echo with screams and horror. They are eerily silent as not a bird sits on their branches nor nests in their boughs.  

I stood beside these mass graves atop soil that still bleeds and I listened, my breath shallow, my throat full, my eyes wide. I heard nothing.  I felt fear. And in Auschwitz I saw that doll. I saw the human hair that had been shaved off the cargo before it was liquidated, carefully collected and stored. I saw the blue and red pots and pans, the graters, the peelers, the shavers, the brushes, the duplicity.

And I saw that doll. Its leg broken off, rosy cheeks dirtied, eyes frozen, yet still wearing a fancy lace petticoat and an embroidered, starched skirt. As I  stared at it, I thought  of the little girl whose eyes lit up when she was given the doll and who caressed  it and dressed it with care and took it everywhere, even to Auschwitz.

I saw a little girl with a doll. She had two long ponytails just like her doll. She wore shiny patent shoes, white tights and a pretty pink dress. She loved her doll and skipped along with it, then ran back to her mother for a hug. Her mother loved her and this lovely girl felt so secure, so happy. She kissed her doll, and sat it down next to her. Tears ran down my cheeks. I know how deep this love is and I cannot imagine how painful it is to lose it.  I will never forget that broken doll sitting in a glass showcase.

As the siren stops, I hear other sirens from distant towns echoing across the fields. Busses start up and soap operas fill TV screens. Cranes swing concrete blocks, building homes and apartments and orffice towers. Children run out for recess and the stock exchange continues to trade.

I look up. Palms sway in an azure sky, birds sing in the jacarandas and a breeze flutters the petals of orange blossoms.  It is April and this country is a blooming palette of vivid colors.

And this is why I am living in Israel.


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