Did my recent visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau change anything? Very soon now the greatest human cruelty ever perpetrated on other humans during the Holocaust of the Jewish people during World War II will have slipped into history.
A new generation, my grandsons for example, will view atrocities at Auschwitz with the removed detachment given to mass murder during the reign of Gangas Kahn. But not quite for me, a child when my people in Europe were systematically destroyed. At Birkenaw, designated by the Nazis as Auschwitz II and where the gas chambers were located, I recited the Koddosh and El Molay Rachamin, traditional Hebrew and Aramaic prayers said for the dead. Yes, I have recited such prayers many times at funerals and in the synagogue, but never for one and half million deaths and never at the site were mass executions took place. Will this change anything? Absolutely not, but being present at Auschwitz brought tears to my eyes and allowed me to say farewell to a lost generation that perished unnecessarily when I was a young boy.
Visitors to Auschwitz and Birkenau barely talk among themselves. They are silent in when in such an emotionally overwhelming place. They seem to know intuitively that they are not at a museum but present in a sanctuary, alive with memories that teach us all about the human beast. Never in my life have I been in such a sad location. In Genesis God chastised western civilization’s first murderer, saying to Cain, “the voice of thy dead brother still cries out to me from earth.”