So many tears.
So many heavy hearts.
So very many shoes.
During last year’s trip to the Stutthof Concentration Camp, I opted to skip the first building full of shoes. This year I saw it. Ben and I estimated it to be a pile about 4 feet high, 12 feet wide and 40 feet long – remnants of shoes once buried on the site. Again, I was instantly emotional. We walked through the camp with with slow steps and faces that carried the pain of horrific memories. Kazik proudly wore his yarmulke (Jewish cap) and carried the flag of Israel. It made a statement.
Several people stopped and rested on what was left of a building foundation. A lady who has spoken to me a few times in English sat with me and just quietly said how sad it is to be here. I agreed and we chatted a little. She asked where our children were and I told her that we felt this was too much for them to see at their ages. I told her that have talked with them about the Holocaust and explained in simple terms what happened. She gave me a faint smile and said, “Good. They need to know. But not everything until they are older.” She said a few words about those in her organization in Israel and how many of them spent time in concentration camps like this one and have so many memories. I said, “What about you?”. She said that her family was not taken to a concentration camp, but did live in the ghetto in Ukraine from the time she was 3-years-old until she was six. She said that at times the ghetto wasn’t far off from a camp. There was no food, it was crowded, they were treated terribly, there were always soldiers and dogs and fear. She said many memories are fuzzy because she was so young, but she remembers as clear as yesterday the image of her grandmother being carried out on a blanket. She was covered in the bloody feces of dysentery and she never saw her again. She said that both her grandmother and one of her sisters received shots to cure them, but they both died. Ben and I discussed the suspicion that those shots may never have intended to cure. She went on to tell me that after they were released from the ghetto and living in their own place again, there was a night that Russian soldier came and told her mother to take the children and go. He said he didn’t like the war and had a family of his own and he knew that tonight everyone would die. Her family took this warning seriously and fled. Those who stayed did not survive. Her tears grew as she talked about her mother dying at a young age because she had endured so very much.
As we entered the crematorium, the survivor in front of me immediately turned around. Her eyes were red and full of tears, and she was unsteady on her feet in her rush to exit the building. I went to help her to the grass. I wanted so badly to comfort her, but I knew she would not understand my words. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her forehead. She wiped away tears and spoke to me in Russian. Ben came out and quickly understood my look to mean “Get Sasha”. Sasha came and spoke to the lady and told me that she said it is so hard when we don’t speak the same langage. I think it’s time for me to learn another language…. or two.
There are more pictures from today in the 2013 Photo Gallery. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that we aren’t permitted to post direct pictures of the survivors online, so you’ll only find pictures that do not show their faces. We’ll be able to share more pictures with you when we return.
You can read my post from last year’s visit to Stutthof here: Face To Face With Hatred.
For more information about Stutthof concentration camp….