Updated: Nov 12, 2019
After a snack at the canteen, we took the tour bus to Birkenau, the largest of the more than 40 camps and sub-camps that comprised the Auschwitz complex. The rain was coming down heavily now so we took shelter and recited Kaddish for Naftali Rosenblum, who was married to Cesia Suknik (daughter of Josek Suknik and Mariem Zmidek) and had emigrated to Belgium in 1930. Naftali was captured by the Gestapo in 1944, deported to Auschwitz, moved to Gross-Rosen and later to Buchenwald, where he died in April 1945.
We walked along the path that the Jews, fresh off the train and destined to die immediately, took on the way to the gas chambers. We looked inside the barracks, which were converted stables, and saw the rows of receptacles they were forced to use for toilets. We continued to walk in the pouring rain to the rubble of the gas chambers, destroyed by the Germans in the wake of the approaching Russian army.
By now, we were drenched. I welcomed the discomfort because I could tell myself I was being reverent by approximating the wretchedness of the Jews who had suffered here. But that of course was nonsense, a silly self-indulgence. I'm struggling with the words to describe where we are and what we've seen - calamity, disaster, tragedy. These words do not pay justice to what occurred in this place because the words to describe it have not yet been invented.
Saying Kaddish in Birkenau