Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) begins in the evening of Wednesday, April 18, 2012, and ends in the evening of Thursday, April 19, 2012

I wrote the following blog a couple of years ago to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day

I can remember the Holocaust, but I can't do much more. I can't imagine it, I can't describe it, I can't understand it.

My parents weren't Jews. They weren't in the Holocaust. They were Polish Catholics who were taken to Germany to work as slave laborers in the concentration camps there. My dad spent four and a half years in Buchenwald, and my mom spent more than two years in a number of camps around Magdeburg. They suffered terribly, and they saw terrible things done to the people they loved. My mother's family was decimated. Her mother, her sister, and her sister's baby were killed outright by the Nazis. My mother's two aunts were taken to Auschwitz with their Jewish husbands and died there.

I remember asking my mother once if she could explain to me what she felt in the worst month of her worst year in the slave labor camps in Germany. All she could say was, you weren't there.

I wasn't there.

I've spent much of my life writing about the things that happened to my parents in the slave labor camps and reading about what happened in those camps and in the Nazi death camps in Poland where so many Jews died, and still I will never be able to understand or comprehend what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust.

I went to Auschwitz in 1990 with my wife Linda and our daughter Lillian. We walked around, took pictures, tried to imagine what had happened there. We couldn't. We were just tourists.

I wrote a poem about it:

Tourists in Auschwitz

It’s a gray drizzly day
but still we take pictures:

Here we are by the mountain of shoes.
Here we are by a statue of people
working to death
pulling a cart full of stones.

Here we are by the wall where they shot
the rabbis and the priests
and the school children
and the trouble makers.

We walk around some too
but we see no one.

Later, we will have dinner
in the cafeteria at Auschwitz.

We will eat off aluminum plates
with aluminum knives and forks.
The beans will be hard,
and the bread will be tasteless.

But for right now, we take more pictures:

Here we are by the mountain of empty suitcases.
Here we are in front of the big ovens.
Here we are by the gate with the famous slogan.

Here we are in front of the pond
where the water is still gray from the ashes
the Germans dumped.

Friday, April 13, 2012

67th Anniversary of the Liberation of Buchenwald

April 11 was the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

My dad spent four and a half years there.  He was a farm kid living in Poland when he was captured by the Germans.  In the camp my father learned a lot of things, but one lesson stayed with him always.  As he used to say, “There is only work and death.” 

When he was liberated in the spring of 1945, he was dressed in rags, weighed about 75 pounds, and  only had one eye.  He had lost the other when a guard repeatedly clubbed him for complaining about the food.  

Here’s a poem I wrote about the day my father was liberated by the Americans.  It comes from Lightning and Ashes, my book about the experiences of both my parents in the German slave labor and concentration camps.

In the Spring the War Ended

For a long time the war was not in the camps.
My father worked in the fields and listened
to the wind moving the grain, or a guard
shouting a command far off, or a man dying.

But in the fall, my father heard the rumbling
whisper of American planes, so high, like
angels, cutting through the sky, a thunder
even God in Heaven would have to listen to.

At last, one spring day he knew the war was there.
In the door of the barracks stood a soldier,
an American, short like a boy and frightened,
and my father marveled at the miracle of his youth

and took his hands and embraced him and told him
he loved him and his mother and father,
and he would pray for all his children
and even forgive him the sin of taking so long.


My wife's Uncle Buddy Calendrillo was with Gen. Patton's army when they liberated the camps.  I've written about him and what liberating the camps meant to him.  You can read that post by clicking here.

The photo above was taken by Margaret Bourke-White, an American photographer who was one of the first reporters in the camps. She wrote a great book about her experiences called Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly: A Report on the Collapse of Hitler's Thousand Years.