Monday, June 27, 2011

Israelis sentenced for theft of Auschwitz mementos

I had planned to blog about summer, and then this news item caught my eye.  I’m probably in the minority, but I felt an immediate sense of sympathy for this couple.  Some will say they’re common thieves, looking to make a quick buck from Holocaust artifacts, but my thoughts go in another direction.
A few years ago, on tour of Poland, we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau.  I went expecting to be disturbed, but instead, felt nothing.  The place is so vast, so green, and so empty, that it’s hard to connect it with anything at all.  In many places Birkenau looks more like an unpopular public park than a murder site.
The one moment of connection came for me when we left the death camp – Birkenau, for the labor camp cum museum – Auschwitz.  The museum inhabits a few small buildings with shiny linoleum floors that evoke east-coast schools of yesteryear.  I half expected a bell to ring for recess.
Glass display cases overflowed with valises, eyeglasses, talitot – even prosthetic limbs.  Toward the end, we entered one room where I caught my breath.  It was entirely filled with enamel pots, a jumble of red, blue, and white.  Food is life, nurturing and love.  I imagined the inner dialogue of the wives and mothers who brought these pots here, their debates over whether to bring the meat or the dairy pot, their calculations as to what would best sustain their loved-ones.   Unsure of their future destination, but determined that their families would eat – and that it would be kosher food.
When we left, the tour guide brought us past the “gift shop” – can we really use that phrase?  I knew I would not spend a penny there.  The museum was built on the backs of those loving mothers…
Yes, I know they need funds to keep the place going, to serve as a memorial, so we’ll “never forget.”  But I can sympathize with the urge to liberate a few artifacts.

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