When I was in Auschwitz-Birkenau (Block 27) last June, there was a new permanent exhibition of the Shoah. Part of that exhibition was an installation called “Traces of Life” which was designed by artist Michal Rovner. Rovner, however, did not draw the images on the walls. She replicated them from the drawings and paintings of some of the 1.5 million Jewish children that were murdered during the Holocaust. What affected me most profoundly was the fact that these children, many of whom had no specific language per se (23 different languages were spoken in the camp so they hobbled together a language of their own sometimes), clung on to their viewpoint and what was essential to them in a place where death was their future. The Nazis may have thought they were hiding their crimes efficiently dumping their ashes in the Vistula River but these children, with whatever materials they could find, left their presence on the walls or scraps of paper. I could almost feel their souls in the room as I looked at each drawing. Such a powerful testimony! My following words don’t do justice to the emotion I felt that day.
The Secrets of the Vistula
Her smallest and her youngest
kept you from your conquest.
You took their tongues but not their voices!
If you listen to the water’s song, you’ll hear them sing:
“hide us here if you must,
we’ve left our stories in the dust.”
– the ashes, the wood, the walls…
A menorah on the kitchen table?
This little one had a home, a family, a faith.
Was there nobody to kindle this light?
Twenty three languages spoken in the places between
waiting for death and death; twenty three and none.
A planter full of flowers “pour maman.”
Traces of life.
Her loveheart and his “happy birthday!”
Mother’s washing blew on the washing line as they played in the playground.
The naked breathing skeletons at the edge of the woods,
the limp and lifeless figures hanging motionless at the gallows.
Soldiers of death
– they saw you!
(inspired by the children of the Holocaust, and artist Michal Rovner, at the new Permanent Exhibition in Auschwitz-Birkenau)