By Rabbi Shalom Lewis | Congregation Etz Chaim
Having been to Auschwitz this summer, one’s head and heart are overstuffed with bewilderment and unfathomable shock. As we absorb what we have seen and sort out what we have felt, we are rendered numb by the staggering, unspeakable depravity.
The evil of the place mocks the visitor who struggles, with faint success, to grasp what is before him. The whole crushes our soul; the parts baffle our reason. We are forever transformed, reluctant witnesses to ultimate villainy in the abode of the ultimately demonic. We are pummeled with searing lessons, moral caveats that slip conveniently into clichés about “man’s inhumanity to man” and that “evil prevails when good people do nothing.”
The profound becomes trite in the blood-soaked earth and in the hideous shadow of “Arbeit macht frei.”
We are not the first nor the last in this struggle to downsize the monstrous. There is temptation of dismissal as we pass the rusted barbed wire and head back to our cushy bus. Behind us we leave a restaurant, a gift shop, a restroom that casts us into a place of paradox. The banality of evil defined.
Darkness and light battle for dominion. What is the takeaway from these acres of slaughter and resurrection? From this place that exhausts Webster’s lexicon, what must we remember? Are we tourists or mourners?
I share the following for the new year. A lesson from purgatory.
When we are caught in the rain without an umbrella. When the waiter is slow. When we have a bad hair day. Think of Auschwitz.
When we can’t find a parking space. When there is a stain on our tux. When we lose cable for hours. Think of Auschwitz.
When we have no legroom on a plane. When there is a bad line call. When our flowers are devoured by rabbits. Think of Auschwitz.
When our nail chips. When our roof leaks. When a shoelace snaps. Think of Auschwitz.
When we get our landscaping bill. When we get our Visa bill. When we get our dental bill. Think of Auschwitz.
When our steak is tough. When our Coke is flat. When we are stuck in traffic. Think of Auschwitz.
When the show is sold out. When the maid calls in sick. When the wrong sofa is delivered. Think of Auschwitz.
When our hotel room is small. When our newspaper is wet. When the coupon has expired. Think of Auschwitz.
When our back aches. When our feet hurt. When our hair thins. Think of Auschwitz.
As we enter a new year and life flings its serendipity at us, as we begin to mumble and grumble, let us calmly step back and think of Auschwitz.