O Auschwitz, O Birkenau

Five days in Poland. My first trip. I began writing this meditation on the bus after a day at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but couldn’t complete it. We’d already seen so much. Treblinka. Majdanek. Lupachowa Forest. Zbilitowska Gora. Shuls, yeshivas, graveyards, shtetls. This Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies trip, led by Dean David Bernstein, covered the long history of Polish Jewry, from the heyday of Jewish religious and secular life to today’s Polish Jewry. And, of course, the inter-war period and the Holocaust. Here in Israel, after several weeks home, I found the end of this meditation.

O Auschwitz, O Birkenau
Treblinka, you will not see my tears.
Majdanek, you will not hear my sobs.
You will not wound me again.
You have done your evil.
You have taken your pounds of flesh.

Yes, I will shed tears for the lost,
The brutalized, the lynched,
The murdered and the slain.
Not here.
Not inside your grounds.
Not inside your gates.
I’d rather choke on my sorrow
Then give it to you.

But Auschwitz, Birkenau,
You test my resolve.
You challenge my heart
Steeled against your evil,
Steeled against the echoes of mourning
That rise from your sullen earth.

When I leave the killing fields
I will shout to the heavens.
I will lament with my people.
Our voices resounding with grief and power,
Unmistakable strength declaring,
‘Come, you tyrants.
Come, you villains and antisemites,
You murderers and despots.
You have made us fearless, invincible.
We will survive you, too.’

© 2020 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com.

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Postscript: Here are two prayers that I read at different memorial services that we held in Poland: “Tears of Crystal, Tears of Broken Glass” and a new version of “Remember My Heart” adapted for reading at Zbilitowska Gora.

Please check out my ELItalk video, “Falling in Love with Prayer,” and my two CCAR Press books: This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings and This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day. For reprint permissions and usage guidelines and reprint permissions, see “Share the Prayer!” To receive my latest prayers via email, please subscribe (on the home page). You can also connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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