Never Again (Conversations with God)
On December 19, 2012, I visited Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial. “Never Again” is a feeble attempt to put the horrific events of the Holocaust and my humbling experience in the memorial into words. Nothing will ever justify the genocide that occurred. No words can do it justice. Because photography was not permitted inside Yad Vashem, I will use this poem to illustrate what it felt like to be there.
In the hearth of Jerusalem,
The Holy City of Fire,
Live the spirits of those
Who died in it.
“Who can save them?”
A small voice could be heard,
As the walls close in…
First. Second. Third.
“Into a triangle we are bound,”
Another mighty one bellowed.
“It is the stablest of shapes,
A pyramid rooted to the ground.”
“Your people have two in your Star of David,”
With a symphonic roar,
It closed the door,
And nullified the light
Of an earlier Jewish world
Much like yours
That had been rejected.
Images of a bygone era,
A Jewish universe in 1930s Europe
Flashed on a cement screen.
With a strange bidding power
A century of history
Passed by in less than an hour.
I saw men, women, and children.
Their faces showed.
They were dancing, singing,
And waving goodbye,
As if they didn’t even know…
“Hatikva”, a youthful choir ominously chimed.
Hope was on the way, I thought,
Until the cement panels melted to grime.
“They are the dry bones of yesterday,”
The once-mighty bellow went solemn,
“Who perished without a trace,
Who are scattered throughout
This hallowed, hollowed, and blood-stained place.”
“Be like them and say farewell.
For the rest of time,
It is their forgotten story that you will tell.”
I knew as a Jew
Where I was and what I felt,
But could not express it well.
I told the voice
—I had the choice—
I must be in Hell.
“Surely you are right,”
The light became night,
And a zigzag of narrow fences
That overwhelmed my meager senses
Cut a treacherous path through the walls.
A flurry of papers fell from the sky
As my invisible companion left me to die.
Once the icy wind calmed down,
The stack of pages formed an uneven layer
That blanketed the ground.
“Like snow,” I snatched
One from the floor.
“Auf wiedersehen, Jewish whore!”
The wretchèd thing read.
Millions of papers,
Each one just a slur,
Barraged me with hateful words.
This was the dark side
Of that Jewish world.
A sea of virulent Anti-Semitism,
At the heart of European culture,
Into the spirit of the 1930s
I was hurled.
Blood libels here,
Judas accusations there,
Not even St. Augustine
Had a kind verse to spare.
I then saw that perverted
Swastika emerge from the haze.
To the Unholy Crusades they’ve reverted.
Propaganda was more than just a phase.
I turned to Germany;
Kristallnacht had occurred.
The small number of Jews were enemies,
A melting pot they had stirred.
“Get the Jew to Palestine,”
A child’s board game said.
“Hell, if you can’t ship them away,
They’re better off dead.”
“Such was the Global Refugee Problem,”
The 1938 Èvian Conference ruled.
“The Jews don’t belong anywhere,” it said.
Anti-Semitism had been fueled.
The narrow walls closed further still.
Somehow the air grew colder,
Even as I walked down the hill.
I saw a nursery in Berlin.
“What of them, the children?” I asked.
“They’re pure. They’re untainted.
Surely, they will…”
“Stop,” the mighty voice commanded.
“They’re already corrupted by this hatred.
It’s too much for you to face.
The Nazis got to them long ago,
Through their board games, their parents,
And even the radio.”
“Their story doesn’t end here,”
It continued. “Just look down.”
Below my feet I saw shoes.
Thousands. Millions. Still warm too.
“They are the anonymous victims of this heresy
Who had no other fate to choose.
If you were born in a different era,
You would have been one of those innocent Jews.”
“There are men, women, children,
Many younger than you.
Some were homosexuals, babies too.”
I came to this realization
As a yellow Star of David
Was pressed into my chest.
“For the next decade you’ll be hunted,
Tortured, and starved to the bone, too.
You cannot hide. Like Anne Frank
You’ll hope the Nazis won’t pursue.
I walked to the left,
Then looked to my right.
I saw two hundred thousand people bow.
They rallied as a unit for Hitler
And his Final Solution.
I truly wanted to kill them all.
If only I knew how.
“You’d be no better than they were
If you did. They’re all dead now.”
“And what of the six million
Who were murdered for no reason?”
I asked Hashem.
The voice showed its true form.
In less than a second, I felt warm.
Five twinkling lights
Twinkled like a million stars.
“They are the generation we lost,”
I said. “That’s what they are.
If the children of the Holocaust had lived,
This world could have gone so goddamn far.”
“Humanitarians talk of the refugees
Who they know nothing about.
What of the refugees, who,
In their hands, were deliberately wiped out?”
“So many innocent people
Were kicked off the Earth,”
I expressed without mercy.
“Even Germany’s Minister of Justice
Ruined us with this baseless dirt.”
“To add injury to insult,
The world is trying to forget.
All of its actions, its guilt,
Washed away without regret.”
“How can I fight
Such lack of sight,
When such mindlessness
Is too difficult to bear?”
“They will never clear
Themselves of blame,”
Hashem hammered home.
“Not all people are bad!”
For the Righteous of the Nations
I am glad.”
“Some gentiles gave their lives
To make others possible.
Fight the Nazis they would
So that the Jews also could.”
“Those that deny
The who, the how, the what, and the why,
Are as lost as those they disparage,
The ones that honestly, truly died.”
“For those who perished
In the Anti-Semitic game
Rest forever with me, Hashem,
In a sacred place called Yad Vashem,
The monument and the name.”