Eating an Ice Cream at Auschwitz

Repulsed and, with a desert dry mouth, I made my way along the rubble.
Death was mummified in those misshapen, gnarled pieces of mortar, brick, and cobble.
But the gates weren’t locked for me.
No one saw me leave.
No one said I couldn’t.
I wasn’t sold the lie:
Arbeit Mach Frei.

I was sold appeasement.
Apollo was relentless that day.
Evidenced by the sun-creamed portraits my hands left around the surface of three spent water bottles.
I had taken shelter beneath the shade of some tree I should have known from its leaves.
I was distracted by the drought (or maybe I was numb).

That first lick was luscious.
My taste buds slalomed the semi frozen foam of Mount Olympus.
Milk and honey Mytikas cooled my sorrow.
She quenched my pain.
So easily two or three coins had eased my torment.
Guilt followed.

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The Secrets of the Vistula

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)

From One Wall to Another – A Pictorial Journey of the Holy Land (Part 2)

This is the second part of a post about my trip to the Holy Land.  Part 1 (From Galilee to Gethsemane) began around the shores of the sea of Galilee, through Qumran and on to Jerusalem arriving at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. This one begins at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, journeys to Ein Karem and Bethlehem and finishes at the Separation Wall at the West Bank.

Women at Western Wall

Women praying at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, this is the holiest site that remains for Jewish people. As a Christian woman, it was an emotional and profound moment being allowed to pray here although it was also a very unusual experience being separated from the men.

Western Wall

I literally held my camera over the fence that divides the men and women’s prayer sections at the Western Wall to take this photo. My son is in this photo wearing the white kippah. He was not allowed to stay with me and I was not allowed to go with him. I cannot begin to explain how that felt as a Western Christian mother (another blog post perhaps).

Schindler's Grave

This is Oskar Schindler’s Grave on Mount Zion. As you can see, the Jewish tradition of leaving a stone when visiting tells its own story here.

Zion Gate

Zion Gate entering the city of Jerusalem. This was a stark reminder of another Holy Land – one filled with bullet holes.

Again, as a Western Christian woman, this is something that was completely counter-cultural to me.

This is the view taken from the Church known as Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied knowing Jesus.

This is the view taken from the Church known as Peter in Gallicantu, where Peter denied knowing Jesus. Gallicantu means ‘cock crows.’

Servus Domini

This sculpture moved me to tears.  I had just come from the pit where Jesus was held after his arrest and, most likely, beaten and flogged before being brought before the high-priest.

Ein Karem Church of the Visitation

This is part of a painting inside the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem. What I loved about this is two-fold. The tenderness between mother and child is an immediate attraction for me but I love the sphere she is standing upon. Is it because she truly is the most powerful woman in the world? or does it depict the pearl of great price in the Gospel used to explain the value of the Kingdom of God?

Mary and Elizabeth

I love this sculpture in Ein Karem. It depicts Mary and Elizabeth, two pregnant cousins sharing some knowing looks and secret joy.

Manger Street

I’m certain this was not the name of the street the day Mary and Joseph pulled in on their donkey!

Milk Grotto

I love this painting. It is rare to come across an image of Our Lady breastfeeding. It is in the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. Tradition has it that the Holy Family took refuge at this location during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt and that while Mary was nursing Jesus, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white. Both Christians and Muslims believe that powder scrapings from the stones in the grotto can increase fertility and the chances of pregnancy.

Separation Wall on Road to Bethlehem

The “Separation Walls” in the Holy Land remind me of the other walls of shame throughout the world – Belfast, Berlin, Cyprus, the USA and Mexico.

From Galilee to Gethsemane – A Pictorial Journey of the Holy Land (Part 1)

It has been on my mind for some time now to do a blog post on my trip to the Holy Land, which I took last year with my son and a number of others from university.  I couldn’t make up my mind what to include in the post and my indecisiveness caused this lengthy delay.  Looking through other pilgrims’ posts, one thing I noticed was the recurring pattern of similar photos taken at the more famous locations so, in the end, I decided I would post some of the less common images.

Part 1 of this post includes pictures I took around the shores of the sea of Galilee, our journey through Qumran and on to Jerusalem arriving at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

Part 2 (From One Wall to Another) begins at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, journeys to Ein Karem and Bethlehem and finishes at the Separation Wall at the West Bank.

Galilee

The sea of Galilee is known locally as Lake Kinneret. To my surprise, it wasn’t a sea at all!

Nazareth

Some children playing in the long grass on the outskirts of Nazareth, the home of Mary, Joseph and Jesus

Beatitudes

This is the view from where is traditionally believed to be the location of the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount. It is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee between the villages of Capernaum and Gennesaret.

Taghba

This is Tabgha. It is traditionally believed to be the place of one of the miracles of loaves and fishes and also the location of one of the resurrection appearances of Jesus. It was from these rocks that Jesus asked his disciples to cast their nets once more back into the sea.

Primacy of Peter

This is perhaps my favourite statue in the Holy Land. It depicts Peter on his knees pleading with Jesus to believe him when Jesus asks him does he love him. A humble and broken Peter accepts the role of caring for Jesus’ followers, not the triumphant Peter that is depicted in most churches today. He had, after all, denied that he knew Jesus at all when they were in Jerusalem for fear of being crucified too.

Capernaum Temple

This is the temple ruins in Capernaum where Jesus lived during his ministry.

Jesus Boat

This is the Jesus Boat, as it is known locally. It is a first century fishing boat that was discovered in the Sea of Galilee during a time of drought in 1986. It is on display in the Yigal Alon museum in a Kibbutz named Ginosar.

Qumran

The caves at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946

Jerusalem

Looking over to the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives cemetery. The stones on the graves are left by those who have visited their loved ones during the year.

Gethsemane

This is the oldest olive tree in the garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane means “the olive press.”  This is where Jesus came to from the city of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley, to pray before his arrest.