Slice of Life Day 20 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)
I’ve never been to Auschwitz, but my daughter Mallory says her travel group was rendered speechless for hours after they visited 12 years ago. They’d all had to regain their composure before being able to talk again. After reading Night by Elie Wiesel and watching the documentary of Oprah Winfrey going back to Auschwitz with him years later, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to have stood mere inches from the clothes, shoes, and other precious belongings – including teeth – of the innocent people who were taken there, separated from their loved ones, and killed at the hands of merciless monsters.
On a morning that started like any other, I was standing in the hallway of the high school preparing for a meeting when an English teacher shared that she had been cleaning off her bookshelves and discovered a book that piqued her interest. Upon further examination, she found that the book, A Beggar in Jerusalem, was one of 250 copies signed by Elie Wiesel himself.
As I beheld the signature, I was instantly transported to all the harrowing moments of Night – from the prophetic words of Moshe the Beadle that I reflect on more frequently than I care to admit, to the marches from the ghettos, from the cattle cars and the fighting over a scrap of bread on the train to the screaming of Madame Schachter, from the machine gun killings of infants used as target practice to the hanging of the young boy on the gallows, from the starving man who was shot crawling to the soup pot to the sickness that overtakes Elie’s father, from the image in the mirror where Elie sees the corpse staring back at him to that iconic photograph of him among the crowded, starving men in the wooden bunks. That one signature took me to all of those moments at once as I gazed with heartbroken sorrow at the ink there on the page, knowing the hand that signed the book had lived through those terrible times.
A trip is not a prerequisite for a journey, and journeys like these catch us off-guard. This one came out of nowhere and punched me in the gut. I had to pull myself back together quickly and move on with my morning. I’m glad we are past those times, I told myself. Nothing like this would happen today. The Moshe the Beadles of our world would warn us.
I arrived home and stopped at the mailbox, excited that my weekly copy of The New Yorker had arrived. Then I studied the image on the front cover.