Norah

United States

18 | she/they | hypothetical astronaut | ekphrastic poet | haunted house

Message to Readers

I've been trying to articulate many things since last year. I think I've written about a lot of it very vaguely, which is what my year lent itself to, here's a thank you note to my teacher who took us to Eastern Europe. Warning for some pretty heavy topic matter, nothing super explicit, but generally I can't really read things about the Holocaust without a heads up.

urgency

November 12, 2019

    Your teacher says that you will be an expert in mass graves by the end of her class. She is right, of course, she is right about many things. Mostly she is right about how we will feel. She does not tell you that you are standing on a grave until you are standing on one. You never forget that. After that you are careful. You look for signs: the earth dipping like waves, like bowls. There are bones everywhere, of course. But Majdanek. They shot people there, before the gas chambers were built, like they did before. They built them so that their soldiers didn’t have to shoot thousands of people point blank, so the sound wouldn’t last through the day, the whole day and night, the few survivors listening until dawn. 

    Your teacher, in the classroom, explains. She says, and she is pointing to you: imagine you have to shoot someone (here she points an imaginary gun at you), and she’s holding a baby. There’s a picture of this woman. She holds a child before she is shot. She dug her own grave. You would recognize the ruptured land like another limb. You, in that moment in the classroom, hold your baby and want desperately not to die. 

    When you are there, at that torn place, you walk in a circle. It is different for everyone. You cannot help but love these people you never knew, so fiercely it makes your chest hurt. You pray together, what passes as prayer. You cannot say the name of G-d here. 

    Your teacher has done this more than ten times, more than twenty. You understand, somehow, how nobody who visits a place like this every year can be the same person they were before. You understand, somehow, this sacrifice, as she talks about water rising, bringing bodies up out of the mud, as she answers every question, waits for us outside the bathroom at the back corner of the camp (there are bathrooms at Auschwitz, you remembered yesterday, and the memory slapped you across the face, you can see the fading light behind the poplars, the brick, the fields of green and green). She shows you the pictures she took in Rwanda. At this point in the year you’ve started to look away. A friend just died. You want to throw up a lot of the time. You sob openly in the hallways. 

    Your teacher apologizes. She hurries on. There is never enough time, there is an urgency in her voice. You remember long bus rides to former synagogues, sleeping under the roof of a pilgrimage. There is not much kindness to her teaching, to what she has tasked herself with. You cannot imagine going back to those places you went. Your fingers go numb when anyone brings the Holocaust into the conversation, you stay silent and nauseous, and will yourself to come back to your body. 

    With this in mind, you are endlessly grateful to your teacher. You are changed, but not as much as her.  

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1 Comment
  • r|A|i|N

    so beautifully written - conveys the experience of tragedy from a spectator's view & it all ties into the prompt gorgeously


    about 1 year ago