Why does the sun shine in
When the ground was made
fertile with spilt blood, it should now be charred and barren.
No thing should dare grow on such soil.
When the wind has carried millions of screams of anguish and
softer whimpers of the deepest human suffering, the air should
never move again. Still and stifling, it should trap, between
its heaviness, the echoes of those cries and let our ears ring
When the sky bore witness to the sickening cruelties and
unspeakable crimes that mark man’s capacity for evil, it should
now be darkened and forever weeping. The wide expanse of the
heavens should shrivel with the burden of this past.
The entire enclosure should be a dead thing, a black mark upon
our green earth, as on our conscience.
So…why does the sun shine in Auschwitz?
I was shocked to see the grass growing lush around the ruins.
Daisies, white and pure, peeked around a barbed wire fence. I
felt the gentle breezes caress the field, my face.
And the birds sang nothing of hatred.
And the sky was a perfect summer blue.
And for a frightening moment, I almost closed my eyes and forgot
where I was.
In Lunna, without much pomp or ceremony, we threw ourselves into
the heavy work of restoring a cemetery. Raising stones, I felt
no immortality beneath my muddied hands and struggled to
establish some connection to the past.
News of our coming had quickly spread through the town;
strangers and Americans, we were novelties by any name. I had of
course expected the curiosity at our presence, but never
imagined the kindness and outpouring of support for our cause.
Passerby would stop to offer their help, encouragement, and
hospitality. The local children’s camp came equipped with
buckets and brushes to aid our daily efforts; laughing and
running they would race to clear the most debris.
Enjoying the attention, we hadn’t intended to become poster
models for diversity. Still, it was probably inevitable that the
variety of our group’s racial, religious, and cultural
backgrounds would starkly stand out against the homogeny of
Lunna. For many, we were the first foreigners they had ever met.
We were the figurative “Melting Pot” come to life and
represented an alternative, a reply, to the genocide, which had
left in rubble, what we were there to clear.
I myself had been born Jewish in Belarus. My parents immigrated
to the United States before the fall of Communism and had raised
me on tales of anti-Semitism in the place they had once
considered home. They feared what I would encounter.
If only photographs were enough to make them feel what I did.
Each print shows us laboring side by side: young and old, Jew
and Gentile, Belarusian and American, black and white…strangers
who became friends.
“Things can change” is the caption I wrote in for my parents.
Somewhere through the sweat I had found what was looking for: a
meaning in the present.
The cemetery was dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. The
whole town dressed up and came to gather in a tight circle for
speeches, translated twice.
And the sun was there too.
I was smiling through wet eyes as we fervently waved goodbye and
promised to write. The warm hugs and handshakes were universally
A little boy, of about ten, searched for something to give me.
He was a precocious youth, eager and curious to learn everything
about us. Removing brush together, we had shared many
conversations on the war, being Jewish, and the importance of
remembering. Fumbling, he took off the cross around his neck and
pressed it into my palm, intoning that I should never forget
him. I know I won’t.
I can’t offer any particularly deep insight into the Holocaust,
and I didn’t walk away with a new found understanding of
humanity. But when the town completely disappeared from sight, I
looked again into my hand, at the icon of another faith.
Perhaps the importance of Auschwitz, like our little graveyard,
is not as a monument to the dead, but an offering to unite the
Tatyana Liskovich ’08