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When the Loss of Six Million Finally Sunk In

I cut my writing and editing teeth, quite literally, on the ESRAmagazine. Eons have passed in between. Moving back to India after a few years in Israel, setting up a business and putting my children through law school, have meant that a lot of memories of old friends and their extreme kindness in welcoming a stranger into their lives got pushed to the back of my mind. A few things stayed with me. The glorious beach at Nof Yam, the taste of freshly baked bread in Israel, falafel… I could go on and run out of paper.

Possibly what touched my heart the most was a trip to Yad Vashem with a dear friend. Call me stupid, but until that day the scale and the tragedy of the Holocaust had not sunk into my mind. I remember mindlessly writing down something in a history notebook: "Hitler killed six million Jews by the end of the Second World War". Six million. Didn't mean a thing to me. It was merely a figure I scribbled, half bored, in a schoolbook.

Then Yad Vashem happened to me. I wept, mourned all those innocent victims, lamented their loss.

Modern day Israel, in which I lived briefly, is far removed from the memories of the Holocaust. As I roamed your country, its vibrant people, their warmth, talents and love of life, somehow made what I had seen feel unreal. A people who had been through so much hardship and persecution were brash, outspoken and surprisingly kindly.

Again, the slow-witted person that I am, walking on the warm sunlit streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Herzliya felt oddly disconnected from this part of history. To me it just felt like that was another plane of existence, unrelated to the universe; impossible to conceive and conceptualize, eerily - like watching a movie.

Cut to the here and now. A few weeks ago I had a chance to travel to Germany. That is where my time in Israel came a full circle. We visited Dachau.

It was a grey cloudy afternoon. Rain splashed here and there, turning the breeze icy. We entered the infamous gate. A chill ran down my spine. The audio guide kept whispering stories of survivors. I was now in the roll call area. Now elsewhere. I saw neatly made out sheets with details of each prisoner. I saw the barracks where the inmates were housed. I walked into the gas chamber at Dachau. I even imagined the guards and the guns and the crematoria going nonstop. I understood the daily routine of the inmates, their diet, punishments for untidy barracks, the painstaking stripping away of all their dignity, the courage.

The whispering in my ears was here, now, real, recent, macabre. I could literally feel in my bones the collective pain and anguish of all the people who had passed through those and other gates, whether Treblinka or Auschwitz or Sobibor or…

As I return to my life back home in India, the sun is shining and we celebrate Diwali. I cannot get the images of Dachau out of my head. Then a friend sends me a picture of her teenager visiting Auschwitz, which her grandfather had survived miraculously. The look on the young woman's face haunts me.

Never again. If we all tell the story enough times, maybe we could stop the horror ever happening again. To anyone. 



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Tuesday, 05 March 2024

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