Sunday, November 6, 2011

Zaidy John


My Zaidy didn’t have to
read about the Holocaust,
to hear anecdotes,
watch videos,
or sit in a history class.

My Zaidy didn’t “hear about it” from someone
or need to ask what it was
or debate whether or not it happened
and how many died
and “was it really as bad as they say it was?”

My Zaidy didn’t hear about the brutality;
my Zaidy was there.

He saw the horror with his own eyes,
heard the screams with his own ears,
smelled the stenches, the fumes, the smoke…

He told me about lining up after getting out of
the cattle cars—
about the babies yanked violently
from their mothers’ arms,
the children and elderly to one side,
to their deaths,
himself and the others
into the concentration camps
without consent.


And after the war,
after being liberated from hell on earth,
Zaidy told me how he waited,
how every day he checked the lists,
hoping, yearning, anticipating
the reunion with his family.

But that day never came.

I can only imagine the depression,
the despair and the loneliness
upon realizing that they were all gone,
not knowing if, how, when, or where they died,
the uncertainty of whether or how
to move on, to start again,
to live.

“I was lucky,”
he told me,
“that I was only in the camp for a year;
some of them were there for two, three years.
I think that’s the reason I survived.”


a grown man,
my Zaidy weighed only fifty-eight pounds
when the British troops arrived at the camp.

He told me the story
of the man that he and his friend
tried to keep alive,
how they carried him
to see the armies coming through the gates,
only to have him die in his arms
on the day of their liberation.


“Sometimes the past still comes up,”
Zaidy told me.
“It’s a part of me that will never go away.”

He told me how he got a phone call
about some “restitution money”
that Germany was dispensing to the remaining Survivors.

“A couple thousand dollars
is better than nothing.”

They could give him a million dollars,
they could give all the survivors
all the money in the world,
and it wouldn’t even skim the scars
that the past has left upon them.


I’m grateful
that my Zaidy was courageous enough
to tell me what he went through.

I’m grateful that my grandparents were survivors,
that they not only survived
but lived on after their real-life nightmares.

I’m grateful that they didn’t use going through hell
as an excuse not to create heaven on earth.

And I’m grateful that despite all the love they lost,
despite the pain of losing their entire families,
the memories, the dreams,
the questions without answers,
I’m grateful that they still love me,
that they still gave and continue to give of themselves,
that they refused to let their pasts
shape who they were in this world
and who they still are to me.

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