Why does the sun shine in Auschwitz?

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 with them.

            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 understood.

            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 living.

Tatyana Liskovich ’08