Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A family album

Women and children are the only people visible here. Across the top left corner of the photograph is what seems to be a bend, a cut, a crease. When that crease is combined with the fact that the photograph is black and white--and you note the dress of the subjects--you can't help thinking this gathering occurred fifty years ago, maybe more. Unless these folks are some odd Eastern European sect--gypsies?--it's an old picture.

None of the faces look happy. If you think of this as some kind of picnic, you're wrong, dead wrong; and somehow that it isn't is visible on the faces of the women (look at the young woman on the left) and even across the faces of the children. They're eating something--the child up front has something in her left hand. But they are all apprehensive. No smiles are in evidence here, none. Look for yourself.

The woman on the right and in the middle has a barely recognizable symbol on whatever it is she's wearing--you can barely make it out. I think it's a star.

If you hadn't guessed, now you know.

These women and children have recently arrived at Auschwitz. They've survived whatever horrors occurred in the Hungarian Jewish ghettos from which they were forcibly evicted. They lived through hundreds of miles of the horrors that befell them in the boxcars they'd been stuffed into. Now they've just come off the train, walked together down the wide ramp to what people called "the selection," where they were separated into two groups--those who will go to the labor camps and those who will simply be slaughtered. These women and these children are marked for slaughter.

This photograph is in an album that Lily Jacob somehow discovered, a woman who survived the camps but lost her entire family. After the war, Ms. Jacob and her husband eventually immigrated to the United States. Lily started work as a waitress in Miami. 

Among the community of immigrant Hungarian survivors, word spread of the amazing album Lily had found and brought with her to this country. Often, other survivors would show up at the restaurant and ask to see it, hoping to find a picture of some lost relative.

Look into these faces for a moment. In an hour the shower stalls will be cleaned up from the last round of slaughter; and once they are, all of these women and children will be stripped and herded in, told they are about to get a much needed clean-up. Then they will slowly and excruciatingly die from poison gas. Once again the showers will be cleaned and readied for the next round of death. 

In all likelihood, these women and the children they love don't know. What they do know is that their lives have been forever changed. Their lives, very soon, will end. 

That a cultured people--a people the world knew by way of Bach and Beethoven, Goethe and the Brothers Grimm, Luther and Gutenberg--could perpetuate such horror should remind us all that someplace in the depths of the human heart lies a streak of treachery that can never be effaced, only stubbornly, persistently resisted.

The album Lily Jacob found after liberation largely remained in tact. If other survivors recognized anyone in the images, she gave them the picture. But just about all the photographs are still there because the vast majority of those who paged through her album, pouring over pictures just like this one, looking for relatives, hoping to discover a beloved face, never did. 

This picture, like so many, remain. These women, these children, are lost.

Lily Jacob died in 1999. The Auschwitz Album resides in Jerusalem at the Yad Vashem. A friend sent me the url. "We should never forget," she said. She's right. 

1 comment:

Ken Fles said...

Hello James,

Say were your ancestors originally from Aalten, NL?
Some of my Dutch Jewish ancestors also had descendants
with your surname. This article about Aalten during WWII,
has a picture of their defaced synagogue and the names
of some holocaust victims.

The document is too large to translate directly through
a Google translate link, but you could search for your
surname and then cut and paste into Google Translate.