The husband is harsh, filled with aguish, helplessness, and regret. He is my visit to Auschwitz concentration camp this past summer. The word causes my fingers to shudder as they type it into existence, just like my soul as I entered a land of horror. I have been taught over and over of the horrors of the Holocaust, I have met countless survivors, and countless descendants of those who were forced to endure the darkest abyss in human history, and I even am one myself. But somehow I had always distanced myself from it, just like all the horrors of the past—the tales were not mine, not from my world…they were simply tales. But then I was walking up the rusty copper train tracks that had derailed the Romanian Jews from their lives filled with culture, happiness, and love. I was looking at endless stables—horse homes that men and women were forced to dwell in as they waited to be murdered. I wandered across hundreds of holes in the earth that hundreds of humans were forced to defecate in. My feet grazed upon the fresh blades of grass that Elie Wisel has said did not even exist in his age—for the prisoners would have devoured them when all they needed to consume was freedom. I tried to see it through my camera lens, tried to create a blockade, and then I realized for these men and women, there was no blockade. This was reality—nightmares had become the ways of the day, and not even dreams could plaster themselves onto this residue of people the Nazis created. None of the books, none of the movies, none of the photographs or statistics meant anything anymore. For the first time in my entire life I started to grasp the struggle of my people. I was demolished and devastated; a shattered window. I did my own death march as I wandered through assembly lines of sterilization, countless children’s shoes tossed aside much more gently than their wearers, and a room filled with nothing except hair. As I stood under the nozzle of death in the Auschwitz 1 gas chamber and peered into the crematoriums the shells of what were once bottles of light and potential were shoved into, I felt my innocence perish.
But this is not a piece about the death—this is about the life, the life I didn’t know I had burning within me. This piece, that memory is married to another, a woman filled with pride, passion, and insight. For that same summer I visited Masada, a mountain on which a civilization was built by ancient Jews in the deserts of Israel. These Jews fled the conquest of the Romans and journeyed on top of this great structure, believing they were the last of their people in existence, and thrived for generations. But they knew that there time was sizzling like water under the same arid sky. The Romans attacked once again, and their oasis was about to be drunk up. The Jews knew that when the Romans conquered them, all survivors would be enslaved, forced to give up the very culture they had spent eternities to preserve. They were a pool of Jewish blood—the last Jewish blood, and these thirsty Romans were mosquitoes ready to attack, wings fiercely propelling them near. These men and women made a decision. They would rather die at their own hands than be raped of their G-d. So each and every one man, woman, and child made a pact to perish. They thought that they were taking the last Jewish blood out of this earth—the blood of Moses, the blood of Abraham, the blood of Einstein, the blood of Spielberg, the blood of…me. This sacrifice, standing here at the ground of those who would do it all again simply knowing that one person could write of their tale and pray to their G-d, has shaped me from simply an individual, to a member of a nation, a fight for existence and preservation that will continue until the earth roasts in flames or becomes petrified in ice. The thirty other teenagers, each a member of this nation we had not known the beauty of until this moment shouted off the mountain the words of our mother tongue:
“Amnei Yisrael Hai!”
And we heard thousands of voices echoing back. Thousands and thousands, millions and millions, a chorus of our ancestors’ voices dancing through the tops of the mountains. Then it all made sense—here were the voices of Masada, here were the voices of Auschwitz, the voices of all those who had perished, but not alongside with the nation that so many thirsted to destroy. Israel lived—they all lived—in me, in these words I am passing onto you, my heart expanding and contracting with a blood that I cherish more than anything else within the spirals of stars and plains of planets in the universe. This is the blood that runs through my fingers as I write this, as I past new poems into my book. I know that these poems within my book will become one of the many beautiful classics in a library that every soul on this earth will someday read from. And I can’t want to etch in some new pages.