He is wearing a dark blue overcoat buttoned up tight, his scarf is smartly tied around his neck and his shiny black loafers are out of place in the deepening snow. I stare at him, anger welling up inside of me. My brown leather jacket is keeping me warm in the cold. It's a modern take on a WWII flying jacket and has brown synthetic fur on the inside. I am wearing a black beany on my head and gloves on my hands to keep the frigid air from destroying the feeling in my fingers.
A gust of ice wind whips across my face. He grins gently at my discomfort. I continue to glare at the old man standing no more than 5 meters away from me. It's his face. He says everything he needs to without speaking to me. The lines show not his age but his history. For every line, for every wrinkled piece of flesh there is a tale of suffering and of redemption. A tale so harrowing that it could be told only through a metaphor, a memory that never was with a message encapsulating a time of the utmost suffering.
We are not alone in this frozen over hell. All around us wander legions of young Jews and Jewesses. Many of them are sobbing. They are holding hands and have found bonds with each other in their sadness and distress. Their mentors take them from room to room, place to place. These young Jews are the future of my people, as am I. He is but the past, his time all but complete. Only a fool would say he has not used his time wisely. Only a fool would dare criticise. I hear one of the shepherds steering his flock through the snow towards the crematoria.
"Year after year they come here. Year after year they are brought here to see, to pay homage to a shrine of death. They are shown the paraphernalia of death and told survivors' stories until the tears are pouring from their souls. Still you bring them, still you make it their duty to see the greatest catastrophe that has befallen our people since the destruction of the second temple. With the magic words Never Again you force them to be Jews because of how our people perished in places like this. You imprint upon them a guilt I will never share."
He listens silently, allowing me to make my speech. His eyes are distant, he's not listening to me. My anger grows. He nods in the direction of some barracks buildings that I can barely make out through the falling snow. "That was where we slept. That was where my father and I..." His voice trails off to nothing, he has something to say but perhaps he feels that I am not the man to share his thoughts with.
"Their vision of Judaism will always boil down to the iconic imagery of this...glorified cemetery." I continue. "Their Judaism will forever be based on the suffering endured by people long dead. Their Judaism will forever be based on the fear that one day they may be termed enemies of their state and the knowledge that 6,000,000 met their fate in shit holes all over Europe and North Africa for this reason."
I wheeze out these last words unsure as to whether he can hear them. Wails and sobs emanate from the crematoria as the shepherd tells his sheep the stories of how they were used. He doesn't stir, he doesn't react. He is in the same place as me but not the same time. He sees smoke emanating from the chimney, he watches human fuel being placed on the fire. We occupy the same space but not the same time. What I see in colour he sees in black and white.
"My father asked me for help and I ignored him. The grandson of Dodye Feig died here."
"An entire world died here" I respond. "It died here and it never came back. We grew again in numbers but the Jewish world that existed in Europe up until the 1930's never returned. It's as sure a victim as all the flesh that was turned to ash. The Judaism you knew as a child died in the camps. The camps whose names are seared into my mind. Why? I was never here, I never suffered. Treblinka, Auschwitz, Sobibor, Maidonek, Birkenau, Chelmno! Why, why have I heard of these places? Why do they matter to me? I was born 24 years after the fall of the regime that spawned them! Why do those names go around and around in my head non-stop? I know them because the rabbis never stopped telling me about Jews being murdered, shaming me into being a 'good Jew'. I don't want the future of Jews to be based on a knowledge of death and tragedy, it should be about our darkest hour rather than our greatest, our strengths rather than our weaknesses."
"What are you talking about? The knowledge of Judaism isn't based on this. The Holocaust is the great tragedy that has befallen our people and it is our duty to educate the younger generations about what happened here. There is nothing to take from it at all if we can't at least educate about the suffering that man is capable of inflicting upon his fellow man. Other than this I don't really understand what it is that's causing you so much pain."
It's these last words that really hit me. He has seen through me, he has seen past the arguments I muttered and ripped through them. My cheeks flush red and my eyes burn. "How could you let them do it?" I whisper through clenched teeth. "How could you allow this to happen to us?" I croak. "I spent years just wishing to have been born in time to fight against these bastards and you...you just let them march us to our deaths! How can we stand tall in the world when we simply walked to our deaths singing songs and hoping for a salvation from above? Yeah sure the Warsaw Ghetto uprising has been turned into the stuff of legend but, ultimately, the Holocaust happened because we, in our millions, allowed those fuckers to kill us...and and and I just can't think past that. And I resent it and I feel that it is the mark of the Jews to merely die when told to and I don't know what to do about it."
The tears flow freely with my confession I don't wipe them away and I don't know where to put myself as I stand before the man who survived meeting the devil himself.
"You live in Israel?" He asks, I nod silently. "You served in the army there? A Paratrooper?" Again I nod. He smiles to himself, pats me on the shoulder and says "so who ever said you needed to understand?" He walks past me and further into the camp. He merges with the mass of tourists and is soon utterly obscured by the driving snow and I am left standing in this place among the tourists.