Reflections on the Birkenau Sky


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image: Padre

Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

I stand alone.

Above me -rich blue of heaven

Below – a place

Of horror I could but feign imagine


For Wiesel – this place was night

Even with the blueness of its sky

The darkness of its past

I cannot, nor should any, deny


I stand alone.

Above me – rich blue of sky

Below – I offer a tear and a prayer

In memory of those who died


For the last decade or more, I have been a Holocaust educator. My training and research has taken me to many of the darkest places in human history. On one such study trip I had the opportunity to wander the perimeter fence at the Birkenau site at Auschwitz. As I did, I remembered Elie Wiesel’s poem, Night.  

“Never shall I forget that night,
that first night in the camp,
which has turned my life into one long night,
seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the faces of the children,
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me,
for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God
and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.
Never shall I forget those things,
even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.

I was there seventy years later under the same sky.  The place itself, no longer a killing centre, but a museum of its evil past.  It was the idea of a silent sky which I pondered. Wiesel, I believe was using dual meaning here. The sky was silent, serene even, despite the horror below; but also God did not act.  Heaven was quiet.

It is here that I beg to differ with the late professor. I do not, and cannot believe God was unaffected by the scenes below. Even such unspeakable evil, was of man’s making not His. We are our own worst enemies when we abuse free will.

My poem is an honest reflection of my own powerlessness in the face of the above. All I have to offer is prayers and tears.  And these continue to go out, not just to those who perished there, but to their surviving loved ones as well.

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image: Padre



16 thoughts on “Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

  1. Lots of Holocaust focus out there today, between the deniers and the survivors and the museums and the documentaries.
    To deny the Holocaust is a graver sin than denying climate change; absurd, ridiculous. I like your contribution to the mix.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As your poem, Padre and Elie Wiesel’s, tears fill and flow my eyes, at the horrors that humanity can inflict upon each other. I wish that I could say, this is the last time, which we kill other people, due to their religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender/sexual expression, or any other criteria to discriminate against. Sadly, it isn’t. I thank you, Padre, for the hard job that you’re doing to enlighten the ignorance that we carry within us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bless you for your efforts to record for posterity the dreadful fact of the holocaust. It is understandable that one in the midst of that horror should shake one’s fit at God. I agree, however, that God wept with the survivors at man’s abuse of free will. Thank you for your evocative post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Padre, it has got to be very difficult, even though very necessary, to be a Holocaust educator. To visit one of the sites and see the physical place where it some of it happened, has taken it to another level for you. Your poem and Mr. Wiesel’s poems are so anguishing to read, trying to express the worst possible emotions with inadequate tools. Earlier this week I watched the film, “Operation Finale”, where a group went into Argentina and extracted Eichman back in the 1960’s. It was a disturbing experience to watch it, even from that that remote distance of a depiction of actual events.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope I never grow cold to it. I have been to about a dozen camps and killing sites. I am still moved, though it is watching the responses of others that still gets me. I have seen others totally break down at the hall where the suitcases are stored at Auschwitz, but to me the childrens’ memorials at Breendonk and Yad Vashem that chill me most. Thank you so much for your reflections.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The job you are doing is a difficult one and one that needs a strong constitution. When I was much younger, I had a round piece of painted wood with a photo of my mother as a very young child, and on the back a date and name I can’t remember and the word ‘Birkenau’. When I was very young, I didn’t understand what that meant. Now I do. My great uncle was one of the first liberators at Bergen-Belsen. I’ve known a few survivors in Germany and England, people who have told me their stories and others who kept their past to themselves. Your ‘Reflections on the Birkenau Sky’ touched me deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing the inspiration and background story for you poem. I appreciate the deep experience of both poems together. These are the lines that resonated with me the most,
    For Wiesel – this place was night
    Even with the blueness of its sky
    To me, this speaks of abandonment.

    Liked by 1 person

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