This is not a poem
it is a rock
through a window--
it is a smash
Maybe one day I’ll write a poem as piercing as Gottlieb’s, but I am far from that day. One month after the devastating and emotionally-loaded visit to the death camps of the Holocaust, I have no words. I lived many years in the battlegrounds of the first two World Wars; “grim” is the only adjective to describe what I saw in the museums, or heard from eyewitnesses. All that pales after a glimpse at what was happening on the other side of Europe.
The shock is so great to the system, like the grief of sudden loss. There is no preparation, and one can’t know how one will react until the shock hits. I was with hundreds of people going through the camps. Many broke down; some kept their composure. Everyone fell silent. No one smiled. Some took photos relentlessly; others’ cameras dangled unused from wrist or neck. I found myself splitting off into denial. Impossible reaction, prompted by the inconceivable.
I will list some impressions and thoughts, and leave it at that. I may write more someday, but for now, I still don’t know how to process this. Images come, and my mind changes focus as soon as it realizes where it has wandered. So, for now, imagine going yourself …
The atmosphere on the tour bus is festive as we go, people chatting and commenting on the beautiful landscape. We arrive with dozens of other tour buses, and are soon lost in a sea of people, but waiting for our tour guide. Nerves are beginning to show: questions as to what we’ll see and feel, how we will react, observing the people exiting, wondering at the strange disconnect of a tourist attraction over this most horrific of events, with gift shops situated prominently about. There can’t possibly be key chains or magnets here, I silently hope. What souvenir would one want? The crowds are uncomfortably thick and chaotic; I imagine the crowds of Jews who arrived during the war…and then our guide arrives and it is time to enter…