Earlier tonight, I was at the Cambridge (MA) City-wide Holocaust Commemoration. One of the musical interludes at the event was performed by my friend Dana Kletter. She did Chava Alberstein's musical setting of Zelda's Hebrew poem, Each Of Us Has A Name.
Dana is best known as a critically acclaimed musician, but she is also a talented writer. You can find some of her publications in alternative newspapers from the cities she's lived in over the years.
Dana is the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors: both her mother and her grandmother survived Auschwitz. Around this time of year in 2000, Dana published an amazing article about her visit to the death camp in the winter of 1999. Here's one passage:
"I was not prepared for the birch trees ... " begins a poem by Daniel Paley Ellison, who was also on the retreat. And neither was I. They were too beautiful. Beauty and humor were odd and incongruent in that place, but they happened.But, really, you should read the whole thing.
On the third day, a group planning to hold a prayer vigil in one of the gas chambers assembled. A tiny, white-haired, very birdlike woman came rushing toward me, pointing at a bus and saying, "Oh my, I hope this is the bus to the gas chamber." I was shocked and just nodded. She began climbing the steps, then turned back to me and said, "Coming?" No, I thought, not getting on the bus to the gas chamber, no thank you, no. I just waved to her and she waved back, going to find her seat.
As the group began to draw together, I met other children of concentration camp survivors, among them my Polish counterpart, Dorata. Polish and Catholic, her father had been a Nazi prisoner, and most of her family had died in Auschwitz. Dorata was one of a group of girls I thought of as "the weeping Polish beauties." She was, for me, an unforeseen circumstance. She was there to bear witness to the suffering of the Poles in the face of the silence, occupation and subjugation. In her, I was forced to meet my anger and intolerance, finding my place in a kind of competition--the hierarchy of suffering--in this terrible place where intolerance had caused the death of millions.
Photo: Dana Kletter at her mother's barrack, 17C Furnicht (Peter Cunningham).