A Heart Distracted

I’m not sure what the right term is. My first thought in describing my hear today was to say it was broken, but that isn’t true at all. Broken comes with the thought that I am sad…I’m not; or that something is wrong…it isn’t. So broken is wrong…as is the phrase – in pieces.

When Elie went into the army, I realized that for many months at a time, no matter what I was doing, a piece of my heart remained focused on him, worrying or wondering where he was. I had a bit of an easier time with Shmulik, mostly because I had (or thought I had) a better sense of where he was.

When Amira was in labor, I was honored to be with her and so my heart wasn’t distracted…if anything, it was more focused than ever on her. Aliza and Davidi have never split my heart…until now.

This morning, Davidi flew to Poland and my heart aches. It is really as simple as that. It hurts. Yesterday, I took two of my uncles and my cousin’s daughter to Yad Vashem. Aliza joined us. Davidi didn’t join us and to some extent, I was glad. He’s see enough, I told myself as we walked through Yad Vashem. He’s see enough.

Yad Vashem is Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum – it houses an unprecedented repository of knowledge, artifacts…pieces of the lives of countless murdered Jews who died simply because Hitler had a plan.

The new and modern complex built in the last few years is sleek. There is a single long hallway with rooms on either side. You are guided through a maze; fed the story of the Holocaust in pieces. Though it sits on level ground, it is like climbing the steepest of mountains. Each step takes you deeper and deeper into the Holocaust.

You begin with a map showing the pre-WWII Jewish populations of Europe. Immediately, I saw what was missing – the number that remained after the war. Yes, there were 3,325,000 Jews in Poland BEFORE World War II, but how many survived?

You walk through, your heart racing…knowing that with each step, you come closer. The beginning is a story in two pieces. First, remnants of the Jewish communities in Europe…and just across the hall but coming close, are the beginnings of Nazism stirring. The red flags with the swastikas bothered me. Shouldn’t they have faded after all this time? Why are they so impossibly bright still to this day?

And then, the roundups, life in the ghetto…and survivors speaking on mounted screens…describing what it was like – the communities before, the beginnings, the camps.

By half-way through, you are debating – which ways is less painful – to go back or to go forward. There are no shortcuts. You have to walk and see and imagine.

Yes, those are real train tracks from Europe…oh God, that is the mangled metal left from the intensity of the heat and fires of the crematoria. Shoes – no, not the hundreds of thousands in Maidanek, but hundreds nonetheless…here in Israel.

Find one shoe, I told my uncle and cousin and let it tell you a story…I don’t know how effective it was…I only know how I felt when I heard those words in Poland.

We continued through, went to the Hall of Remembrance and finally to the Children’s Memorial. I can describe with words what this room looked like and still it will never come close to experiencing it. It’s very dark. Barely enough light to safely walk around – it was a room of darkness, lit only by some candles, infinitely reflected in what seemed to be mirrors or glass. It would be easy to imagine that the candles reflected so many times represented over 1 million lights…one for each Jewish child murdered during the Holocaust.

It was an agonizing trip for us through the halls of Yad Vashem…it will be an agonizing trip for Davidi. We sat before he left and made a list of names and for as many as I could, I described how they died and Davidi wrote it down next to the names.

He fell in the forest, too weak to get up. He told his cousins to go on without him. He remained behind, that smart young man who had so much promise before the Nazis came to Hungary. He died there alone; we don’t know exactly when. His name was Shmuel…and today, my Shmuel carries his name.

He was newly married, that Passover holiday when the Germans came to my mother-in-law’s childhood home. They took him with his new wife, never to be seen by the rest of the family. He died in Auschwitz. His name was Binyamin and today, Elie carries his name.

His name was Yehoshua. His youngest brother was caught by the Nazis. Yeshoshua climbed into the building and rescued his youngest brother, pushing him out of the building but was caught himself. He died…another was given his name but I hope someday one of my children will remember this name as well.

She was only 12 years old. A beautiful young girl when the Nazis came and took her to Auschwitz. Her name was Gavriella…and today, Elie’s baby daughter carries her name.

All this, I told Davidi. All this he took on the plane with him. My heart is so torn, so distracted. My son is walking in places where his people were murdered, treated like animals. Dehumanized, gassed, beaten, starved, turned into ashes – ashes which he will see. It’s killing me a bit inside to think of this.

I wanted him to go. I want him to see, to always remember. It’s killing me a bit inside to think of him there.

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