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.