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The place is called Yad Vashem. It means a place and a name.

The ceiling is beautiful, a triangular prism that points at all the right angles, letting the brilliant light of the day pour in. The sky is just barely visible, and the trees devour golden sun a ways off on this mountain of the dead. The ceiling is beautiful, but the walls are monstrous.

There are video screens I cannot take my eyes off of.

The bodies are skeletons wrapped in skin. Before they are tossed into the ground, I can count their rib bones and discern the exact shape of their pelvis. It makes me sick to watch. They are nothing, but they once dragged these bodies around in life. Wrapping their arms around themselves only to be cut by the sharpness of hipbones, only to stick their fingers into the pockets between their rib bones for warmth. The cadavers are filled with nothingness, and they are bulldozed in heaps into pits in the ground.

The screen flickers away from the bodies and reveals what looks like a field, dark with soil and miles wide. Often, there stands a sign every mile or so, flimsy as paper and no bigger than my hand. It is labeled with only a number.

1,500.
3,000.
7,400.

I sit down on a bench and watch the loop of the film play over and over and over. I see the same bodies twice, three times, five times. But each time the corpse is thrown into a trench, my eyes see someone different.

Cradled, coddled, nursed. Educated, loved, laughing. Kissing and marrying and selling and sweating. Praying and baking and sleeping and rising. Starving and working and weeping and dying. Burned and hanged and gassed and shot in the heart.

Unnamed. Unknown.

I am someone seventy years removed. I cannot bring any of their names or faces above their sardine-can graves. I am so disgusted and ashamed, and I suddenly wish that I were anyone but who I am. I will not be an eraser, I will not be the one to forget, I will not be the one who passes these video screens without seeing the horror of reality. I am trapped behind a glass wall generations wide, but instead of pounding my fists, I stay transfixed on the video screen.

I imagine myself standing in line at one of the trenches.

A man in front of me stands before the SS soldier about to kill him. He spreads his spindly arms wide, shaking, he closes his eyes and tilts his head up to God. Seconds later, his brain matter is scattered on the ground as he falls into the trenches. I have heard the shot, seen the stain upon the ground so many times before, but this time I cry out, and and I cover my mouth with a shaking hand.

Since the videos I am seeing are all black and white, I am imagining that the world was black and white too. Everything was black and white and shades of gray. Except for the blood.

I am not brave. I am so afraid to die. I am afraid of the gunshot, I am afraid of the red spray of my own blood, the last thing I will see before I fall upon the others. After everything that has happened, after I have been tormented and beaten and starved, I am still afraid to die. Hell is on Earth, but what is death? If God is not here with me, who is to say he exists anywhere at all?

On another nearby TV screen, a woman is being interviewed. She has wrinkles so deep I could bring up a garden in them, but she speaks in a low, soft voice that roots me to my spot. They marched, she said. They marched for weeks. It was winter in Eastern Europe. Thousands of women began the march. Less than one hundred and fifty ended it. Friends cradled the dead in their arms. Emaciated bodies were beaten and whipped and corpses were left in the snow.

I turn around just in time to see her fall. She is shivering so violently, and she coughs bile into the snow. Her lips, fingers, and toes are purple like a bruise, and each vertebrae on her spine is a mountain I could climb. A guard comes up from behind her and kicks her as if she is an alleyway dog. “Aufstehen,” he says. Get up. She stands for a moment, wobbles, and collapses again. He spits at her and kicks her in the face, and she blooms as bright as a poppy as blood drips down to the snow. “Ungeziefer.” Vermin. He leaves her there, howling. I run to her and stand her up as best I can. She is thrashing, delirious, her eyes roll back in her head as the blood continues to flow. My ribcage knocks against hers, a single hollow sound ripples amongst her screams. “Please,” I beg, “Please don’t go, please stand up, keep walking, please -” But she begins to cough again, and she’s inhaling her blood, and she’s choking. I wrap my arms around her and hold her so close I can feel the contractions of her lungs, but a blow to the head makes me fall to my knees. “Lass ihr du sterben. Weiterzugehen.” the guard commands, kicking my back. When my head stops throbbing enough for me to look up, I see her body swimming in front of my eyes. She is still coughing. The guard follows my line of vision, points a gun at her, and the shot is so loud it makes me fall to the ground again, clutching my head. The coughing stops.

The words are unbelievable, the images, indescribable.

I am a mother, a wife, a woman, getting off a train I have been on for a week. I am covered in sweat and lice and excrement. The smell is the first thing that hits me as I stumble into the open air, it is overpowering and sickening, the smell of death and burning and suffering. My daughter is writhing in my arms, screaming. An SS guard pulls her away from me, and suddenly I am screaming and writhing, too. My husband reaches out to grab her from the guard and he is shot in the head. I scream so loud it fills the earth and fall to the ground beside him, brain matter on my stockings. But when I go to fist my hand in his hair, I am yanked by my own hair up from the ground. I kick and screaming, wailing and reaching for my husband as his body is dragged away by two prisoners in striped shirts. My ring, my wedding ring, is taking from me, and I am pushed towards a long line of women headed towards the shower house. I cannot hear my daughters cries anymore. There are no children here.

My imagination brings me to tears. The faces I see aren’t nameless, because they morph into the faces of people I know, people I love, my neighbor, my best friend, my boyfriend, my niece. What if it was them? What if it was me? But it was, it was, it was someone’s best friend, someone’s family, someone’s death. It doesn’t matter who I imagine it to be, all it matters is that the unimaginable was someone’s reality. The depth of what that suffering was really like is so vast I will never be able to capture it, in my imagination or otherwise. No one will.

I’m standing here crying in the middle of a museum exhibit because I can feel the yellow star branded on my clothing, too, the yellow star that says Jude.

This place is called Yad Vashem. It means a place and a name.

In this place the day is so beautiful coming in through the skylights.
But with every name, there is a grave gone unmarked.
A story never told.
There is not one place and one name.
There were so many more than that.



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