This folk art wooden carving,
sold to tourists in Poland,
shows the stereotypical Jewish man
holding a bag of dollars.
A headline in the New York Times caught my attention recently. A synagogue has reopened in the town of Auschwitz, Poland. As I read the article, old, painful memories return to me. I recall events and fears vividly, although more than half a century has passed.
I remember a day when I was still a little girl and I had not yet started school. I was home sick with scarlet fever. An old aunt of my mother's, Mala, a retired school teacher who never had children of her own, came to my parents' home to entertain me. She doted on me and my brother and sister. (A few years later, Mala suffered two years of near starvation, only to die after being deported to a Nazi death camp.)
It was Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. My parents were both attending services at the local synagogue. We were Jews living in a small town in Poland with many non-Jewish neighbors, but we were secure and comfortable in our surroundings. Today, many years and experiences later, I see it is tragic that we felt so secure and comfortable.
I was home in bed with my illness, entertained by my aunt. Suddenly, my father walked through the front door. He wore a large tallis (a Jewish prayer shawl). His entire face was covered with blood. What a ghostly sight for a five-year-old! My father, who had a much-coveted seat near a window in the synagogue, had been hit by a large brick thrown from the house next door, which was occupied by some non-Jewish neighbors. Father was attended to by a physician and luckily suffered no serious injury. The tallis, however, was never cleaned, and remained a kind of symbol in our family until it was lost during the war. The image of my father covered in blood is permanently etched in my memory.
I was fortunate to survive the war and, afterwards, to leave Poland. In my life, I have attended many synagogues in many countries. I still attend one on a regular basis in the New Jersey town where I live. On high holidays, the image of my father covered with blood returns to me. As a reminder? As a warning? I do not know.
So, now I ask: Does Poland need a synagogue in the town of Auschwitz, the site of the most notorious death camp and a word that is synonymous with the murder and annihilation of the Jews? Does Poland want a synagogue at that site? Most Poles and the Polish government itself did not need or want its Jews and their observances during the war. They readily participated in the destruction of their Jewish neighbors. Have their needs or wants really changed?
Perhaps this is all for public relations or to increase tourism. Personally, I see no need or purpose for a synagogue in Auschwitz. We survivors of World War II remember and honor our dead ones in our hearts, our homes and our own synagogues. I would never travel to a synagogue in Auschwitz to honor those who died there.