Other women don’t tell you how to teach love in the midst of such hate

Auschwitz II – Birkenau

You will recall that moment more often than you wish. The time he was the size of a banana inside you, a crescent moon waxing bigger with each passing day. You stood beyond the gates of Auschwitz, where buses come to bring people from all over Poland and take them back to their large, homogenous, safe cities. After five days of researching and writing in Oświęcim—the Polish name for the town the Nazis repurposed from life to death and renamed Auschwitz where some destroyed houses had to be rebuilt from the same bricks that were used to build the camp—you were anxiously waiting to go spend the weekend in Krakow. You needed a night to think about something other than barbed wires and dust and ashes, to look away from the past that took so many of your people, so that you could see a future for yourself and the son you were carrying.

Train tracks leading to the camp

You waited in a long line of mostly international tourists—many of whom were Americans—along with three of your fellow artist-scholars who were a part of the Auschwitz Jewish Fellowship group. These three amazing women traveling with you also needed a reprieve from the psychologically grueling week you’d all had. When the bus arrived, the somewhat orderly line dissolved into a heavy mass of bodies, pressing forward towards the doors with complete disregard for one another. “Please let my friend through, she’s pregnant,” your friend said, worried you were was being pushed from all sides—a caring professor and mother herself whose hand on your shoulder made this moment somewhat bearable. But no one moved or cared about her words, many heard but who listened? And a man, further back in the crowd responded, “Yeah? Well then I’m pregnant too.”

The ovens where the bodies were burned after the gas chambers

You think about this moment more often than you wish. Every time another news story about hate emerges. About the disregard for one another and violent acts towards each other. Every time you see people focus on the few things that make us different instead of the multitude of ways in which we are all the same. Every lack of compassion. So many lacks. Every failure to remember the past and its every mis-remembering. The updates about the terror taking place in Charlottesville with footage of Nazi flags and propaganda chants. The things you saw in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial as markers of a past overcome. But even then, you knew this was not the case.

Jars of Zyklon B used to fuel the gas chambers

You knew that even when faced with horrors of the past within the gates of Auschwitz—after walking on its gray ground made up of the dead; seeing the mounds of hair and glasses and suitcases and photos, the train tracks and ovens and crematoriums that devoured innocents by the thousands; after hearing just how many followers hate can gain and just how far it can go before the world notices and takes action—people still go outside and push one another and continue to choose hate and self-interest over love and compassion. You knew this when your son was that waxing moon inside you. When he kicked as you studied and wrote that history you will spend your life trying to understand. A history, that like your son, is growing stronger and bigger and more palpable every day.

You knew that naming him after his survivor great-great-grandmother would not be enough to teach him of the past. You knew it would not be enough to teach him of love in the present. But you did it anyway, hoping, that especially in times like these, it would be a small reminder that the future depends on him. It depends on his generation remembering this past and present hate, and in the face of it, choosing a future built on love. You don’t know how to teach this, but you know you have to keep on trying.

Because taking pictures of the wildflowers growing out of ashes was sometimes all you could do to keep moving

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