This evening marks the beginning of Holocaust Memorial Day. Tomorrow at 10:00 am the sirens will wail throughout the country. Everyone will stop what they are doing for 3 minutes. Cars will stop in the highway. Business meetings will be interrupted. People will stand still and for those few minutes, remember the people who were murdered. This morning was beautiful and sunny, even a bit warm. But now, it is chilly, clouded over, my rain washed car is coated in dust. Every year it seems like even nature grieves.
Tonight we had a special meeting. One of the men in our congregation showed slides from his trip to different concentration camps in Poland. Infamous names: Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka… amongst the photos, one in particular gripped my imagination; I couldn’t shake it. We prayed for Israel, we prayed for our nation, the people, those who mourn and grieve as a result of what happened; we mourned the rising flood of antisemitism, and poured our hearts out to God. Really considering what happened, and the terrible things man does to man is sobering. Pain is…
But I couldn’t forget that picture. And so I came home and found a similar photo on the Internet, and wrote the story below. Because I always try to be positive in my posts, I’d like to add this note before you read the story: many things happen in life to challenge our hope. Some people give up hope, and others cling to it. May we all remember God’s precious promise in Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
It was harsh treatment to be thrown in with all the others. I had been waiting patiently for so very long. I still remember when Helgie had quickly stuffed her doll into my inner pocket. So quickly, so no one saw. Then her mother held her weeping daughter—Bertha was her mother’s name—Bertha Eppinhausen. Her name is engraved on my very being. How can I forget her?
I hid the cherished doll as Bertha and Helgie went with the others. “A shower,” they said. I heard Bertha whisper, “We’ll be right back and get your doll. Just see. And then on our way to a new home.”
I watched them go, sides heaving in relief at no longer having to move, or carry, or be carried. Now, I had only one job, to guard Bertha’s precious possessions, and wait for her return. It was an honorable duty. My thoughts were interrupted by a harsh voice.
“They won’t be back you know.”
I turned my attention to the speaker, from a riveted corner of my eye, I saw her. #1389 clearly stamped on her side, as though to obliterate, but not succeeding, her real name—Olga.
“Excuse me,” I responded. “What do you mean, ‘they won’t be back.’”
Olga sighed. “We all say the same thing. We all had such a sense of purpose in the beginning. But we have none now. Your locked heart will be broken and raped, and nothing will be left inside of you. Nothing…”
From a distance, I heard the voice of the one I would soon know as old yellowed “Franz.” “Olga, stop scaring her. There is nothing to be done. We wait, we were made to wait. We will wait.”
“They won’t be back?” I whispered to myself, as I heard the sound of wails, banging, and sudden stark silence in the distance.
Over fifty years later, I’m still waiting. Helgie’s doll was thrown away, Bertha’s dress was considered remarkable. Olga said she heard it was being shipped to Germany. I lost sight of Franz for a long time.
One day new others came. They made a lot of noise. Some poked through me, Olga, the others… there was nothing left, except numbers and names in bold letters adorning our ancient skin. I guess they thought we were lonely… I don’t know. They threw us all together in a pile, enclosed us behind glass.
I saw Franz in the distance and handled a wave as I landed ungracefully next to Olga. “Reunion!” I attempted to be cheerful but Franz was silent and Olga wept.
People come and stare at us.
I feel ashamed. I was created to guard, to hold, to treasure, to wait. Bertha was right—they left me with nothing except memories and this dreadful waiting. The faces come and gape at us through the glass. That is what woke me up; the beautiful lady with long brown hair, cascading in gentle waves, and her eyes heavy with tears.
She saw me, made note of me, and she wept. I heard her call out to me, “Bertha—Bertha Eppinghausen—I won’t forget you, I swear, I won’t forget you.” For a brief moment I thought I was recognized, but she moved on, and her voice drifted barely into hearing from further down the hall. “They kept hair combs?”
I don’t understand. None of us do, and so we wait. I hope Helgie will understand when she comes back to find her doll.
Photo from https://www.travelblog.org/Photos/6543828