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The Heart of Life: Silence

Thursday, January 6, 2011


About two and a half years ago I walked this road, slowly passing the barracks one by one.  The barracks were used during World War II in a concentration camp called Majdanek just outside of Lublin, Poland.  A door to one of the barracks was wide open.  I went in.
I peered into the heavy silence of the dimly lit barrack.  There were four columns (two taller than me and two reaching my waist) of something gray-colored encased in wire and metal.  The columns ran all the way to the back of the long barrack.
I stepped closer, my fingers gripping the wire.  Shoes.  Hundreds and thousands of shoes.  I slowly walked the length of the barrack.  There were shoes for men, shoes for women, and shoes for children.  My own shoes made a hollow noise against the floor of the otherwise silent barrack.  As I walked past the shoes I remembered a poem by Moses Schulstein that my high school history teacher had shared with us.

"We are the shoes, we are the last witness.
We are the shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers,
From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam.
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of flesh and blood,
Each one of us avoided the hellfire."

The brighter light that greeted me as I stepped out of the barrack seemed to mock the darkness I had left behind me.  I had no desire to go back into the barrack, but no desire to continue walking in the slightly overcast daylight.  I crossed the road and sat beside my friend Kathleen.  We cried silently.  After a few minutes I tried to vocalize my thoughts.  "They kept the shoes.  But they didn't bother to keep the people who wore them," I said bitterly as I stared across at the dark doorway of the barrack.  After watching several people trudge in and out of the silent barrack, Kathleen and I continued walking the road.
The road--called the Road of Homage--led to the Mausoleum.  The domed Mausoleum covers what remains of the ashes of those that lived and died in the Majdanek concentration camp during the Holocaust. 
Chiseled into the dome of the Mausoleum are these Polish words.  I was told that in English it means, "Our fate is a warning to all people."  This warning of which it speaks is not simply a plea to refrain from killing other members of the human race.  It also implores each of us--regardless of our race, religion, or position in this world--to not remain silent when we know something is wrong.  Dante said, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."  Even if you are never heard, speak.  Even words heard only by the speaker of those words are far louder than the silence of a barrack filled with the shoes of men, women, and children who did not need to die.  Speak.



At January 14, 2011 at 3:03 PM , Blogger danny and celia said...

"Silence" is a good title for this blog. There simply are no words that could describe such a place and such an event in history as this!

At April 10, 2011 at 9:06 AM , Blogger Georgia said...

Thank you for speaking (and writing). You are an amazing writer and I am touched by your profound thoughts. Your generation is changing the world with your goodness and willingness to express outrage at injustice and abuse. I also believe you are in the perfect career to speak out and make changes to improve lives and change hearts.


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