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A Decision For My 40th Birthday 
3rd-Nov-2006 12:23 am
I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I decided I was going to go ahead and research it out and get it framed in my mind. I've made a decision about something I want to do for myself in a few years. Four years is not really as long as it seems when you're thinking big. It may sound crazy to some, but I've never been overly concerned with how some of the things I come up with get perceived.

Here's the thing. In the winter of 2010, I will be turning 40 years old. It's a big deal for me as I never thought I would live past 30 anyway, so I want to do something very meaningful that will be a testament to the value of one's life and how lucky we all are in most respects for what we have and take for granted. I want to go to Oświęcim, Poland and experience visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. I want to take part in a death march all the way through the entirety of the camp and experience what those people had to go through in those horrific days.

I want to learn Kaddish and recite it at the death wall of Block 11 in honor of the people who believed until the end that G-d would save them, and place a pebble from my own backyard at the base of the wall while I cry until I've run dry and cannot any longer.

I've wanted to go to Auschwitz since I was in the 8th grade and learned about it in World History class, going to the public library and reading everything I could get my hands on for weeks at a time trying to understand the how and why such a thing was even possible. I've written about it in harsh detail, I have a felt understanding of it from a literary standpoint and I've read a great body of work on the Holocaust, but I really don't think you can understand the gravity of it until you're standing there in it.

I want to mourn all of those who were lost, including MY people. This is a deep, urgent need I have had for many years to do this and I want to use the occasion of my 40th birthday to finally do it.

Four years and I'm going. I welcome any of you who would like to go on this journey with me, I would be honored by your company and it would bond us in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
3rd-Nov-2006 06:03 am (UTC)
.. that's scary. I've wanted to do the same thing since I was very young. Some lingering German ancestry guilt that needs to be resolved, and even more so that I'm gay.. MY kind were put there as well.

I visited the holocaust memorial in Boston, http://www.nehm.org/

One of the walls is dedicated to all the homosexuals who perished. I barely made it through without breaking down, it was so powerful.

I'll gladly make the journey, it's something I've needed to do for a long time.
3rd-Nov-2006 12:49 pm (UTC)
If you want to be a part of this, then post about it, put up a link to this post in your own LJ. Let's create a movement, something that will enable a life journey for others and bond us all together in such a way as I said in the post that otherwise would be impossible. Let others know you are doing this and see how many people are willing to walk the path.
3rd-Nov-2006 06:31 am (UTC)
We're fortunate in that we may never experience what those people went through. Everyone at some point in life suffers a betrayal. The closer the person is to you, the more painful it is. Even when the consequences of a betrayal are greater, the distance of the person from you in terms of love and trust and friendship are what really makes the difference.

I think of everyone I know, or think I know, and how people who were in camps in the holocaust either because of who they were, what they believed, or who they helped or stood for had to think of everyone they knew and wonder who they could trust.

It's not just the betrayal of one person close to you, but of a nation, of one's village or town, of almost everyone they knew or had known. Even people like themselves, when resources were scarce. Ultimately in many ways it was a betrayal of humanity.

I've seen more than I ever thought I could bare. I've walked through a train car that looked like it could maybe hold twenty people, knowing it held over one hundred at a time, most of whom died in each transit. I came out of that car to a stark iron gate which read in German, 'Work Will Make You Free'. It was at the holocaust museum in DC, and seeing that gate (taken from a cast of the original) when I didn't expect it, caused me to literally cry out.

I saw a room full of shoes. Shoes that you'd find in your closet and mine even today. I saw a pair of red sandals that looked like I pair I have. The person who wore them likely dead. So many shoes you had to struggle to see individual shoes. Then you realize, here and there...everywhere in the pile the small shoes. The shoes of children who almost certainly were killed shortly after taking them off.

I've seen the films, I've talked with survivors, I've seen the numbers tattooed ihto flesh. I've seen flesh ripped from bodies to make macabre ...things. There are no words, no sounds that can encapsulate the absolute evil that was done.

The only thing that makes it bearable, at least for me, is the absolute good that countered it. Story after story of people who risked everything, and sometimes gave everything including their lives, to help others because it was right.

As ugly and horrible as humanity can be, that is our redemption. The greatest wrongs that humans can do are countered by the absolute good that can also be done.

I have been absolutely privledged to speak to such people in my lifetime. People who saved thousands of others at great risk, and cost. All of whom had lost friends and family as a result of their efforts, but saved so many more because they acted.

All of them, every single one, when asked why they did what they did said "what else could I have done?" It wasn't a question of why, it was for them a question of how could you not.

I understand your desire to go there, and why. I felt that way too. Today, for me the greater understanding and hope comes from the good. Not just people who hid others, who helped them escape, but even small things. A moment of humanity and compassion. It's not a place you can travel to. It's not something tangible that can be touched or held. We can hear about it, and gain some understanding. I think though that to honor it, we have to strive to become it. To be a voice, to speak when it is hard to do so. To stand up against that which we know is wrong. To do what is right, rather than what is easy.
3rd-Nov-2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
I'm going to think hard on this perspective, and I thank you for offering it. I'd love to hear as much on this subject from you as you're willing to tell.
3rd-Nov-2006 06:33 am (UTC) - Re: A Decision For My 40th Birthday
that's a good plan. i went many years ago because it was important for me as well, though probably in different ways than it is to you.

I really don't think you can understand the gravity of it until you're standing there in it.

oh, i think one can understand the gravity. just like there are people who can go to auschwitz and yet not grasp it. some people's imaginations are better than others', some people have a great deal of empathy and others don't.

and frankly, you won't experience what those who ended up in the camps had to go through; it will be a pale, pale shadow, an antiseptic shadow. but it's still an important thing to do. i am almost tempted to say that everyone ought to do it (except that i am not that prescriptive).

i'd suggest not to go during the height of the summer tourist season, because the visit will feel ... more touristy. go in the depth of winter.
3rd-Nov-2006 12:55 pm (UTC) - Re: A Decision For My 40th Birthday
I hear you loud and clear on every point you make here. You are completely right in the perception of what one experienced in real time there as opposed to subsequent visits to what is now a giant gravesite, but it is as close as most of us could come to it in our collective lifetimes - thankfully.

Part of the timing of this was exactly for the reason you describe, because it will be in December. That took particular significance for me as I think it is important to experience this when the earth is more cold and barren and devoid of renewal as well as the experience of such a thing felt as the prisoners did in the harshness of winter.
3rd-Nov-2006 08:15 am (UTC)
I highly approve of you doing this. And I very much wish I could make the journey with you. For me, though, it is a very bad idea. I went to Dachau as part of a school trip overseas when I was 13. And, despite whatever psychic sensitivities I have being almost entirely shut off at the time (they're anything but now), I nearly fainted just walking through that gate.

I don't know how believable any of this is--even I have trouble believing it at times--but I could feel what happened there, as if it was imprinted in the atmosphere of the place for future generations to encounter. It wasn't just feeling, though. I could see it. Smell it. Taste it. Touch it. Hear it. It's not something I'm ever going to be able to forget (and I wouldn't want to even if I could).

But at the same time, if Dachau affected me that much, when I was so closed off psychically, I don't want to know what going to Auschwitz-Birkenau could or, more likely, would do. Still, I fully support you doing this, and if I can be of any use (though I don't see how that could be possible, what with me being in CO at the moment and going to be moving to Canada at some point in the future), don't hesitate to contact me (quatre_luvs_trowa @ yahoo.com).
3rd-Nov-2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
If ever you change your mind, I would love for you to be a part of it. Anytime you wish to write the details of your experience visiting Dachau, I would be interested in hearing it.
3rd-Nov-2006 08:30 am (UTC)
I myself have wanted to make that journey every since I learned about the Holocaust. My desire to go has become even stronger ever since I heard someone with my own ears say the Holocaust did not occur.

I hope to be making this journey with my brother within the next year or so, before his health prevents it. Hopefully, we will also be able to journey back home and see the Apartaid museum in Jo'burg for the first time.

I hope that these journeys will provide us with what we are looking for. I think its absolutly beautiful that you want to make this journey as well.

Love & Light,
3rd-Nov-2006 09:44 am (UTC)
I applaud you,but I also hope that after you do that you go somewhere cheery for your birthday as well.
For many years I've lugged around a copy of a book of photos by Roman Vishniac entitled "A Vanished World".All the photographs were taken in Jewsih ghettos just prior to the war,and it is powerful stuff.See if you can find it at your library.
3rd-Nov-2006 01:00 pm (UTC)
Absolutely, there will be some kind of celebration to mark the occasion - but I want to have a better reason to celebrate than just the fact that it is my birthday. I want to have a felt understanding of how grateful I should be for what I have and how fortunate I've been to not only be born in this time but for the good I've experienced that overshadows the bad.

It's actually on my list of books to read, that one.
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3rd-Nov-2006 01:11 pm (UTC)
That was the exact same reaction I had to seeing Schindler's List. I didn't actually see the film until 2000 because I couldn't bear even the idea of it and the reality of such a depiction right there in my face, knowing that such care had gone into making it as authentic as possible. I had had my own ideas about what it must've been like for years and it wasn't so much the fear of having that altered, it was the fear that I'd been wrong in my assessment and sanitized it in my mind and heart because the reality was simply too great and such a thing would literally break my heart and crush me with its weight.

Once I finally watched the film with a close friend we had to stop it several times so I could stop crying and being overwhelmed by the enormity of it. What was a 3 hour & change movie ended up taking closer to 5 or 6 hours for me and it was actually one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. Now that I have, I have to go further and find a deeper sense of purpose for myself. This is one of the best ways I can think of to do just that.
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3rd-Nov-2006 11:53 am (UTC)
You are really a wonderful person it seems.
I like your idea and the way you're planning that journey way before.

I was in Auschwitz Birkenau in 1994 and it changed my life more than anything. And it still does.
After being there I was totally displaced (I felt displaced all of my life, but after Auschwitz it was PROFOUND and revealed itself in every single move I made).
What was the most shocking experience to me wasn't the gravity, but the LACK of gravity, Auschwitz was totally antimatter, the coldest place on earth. Absolutely lifeless.

I wish you good luck on your journey.
You won't be the same after it.

3rd-Nov-2006 01:14 pm (UTC)
No no no, please don't do that. I'm no more special than anyone else, I'm just a decent human being. It's a thing with me, getting praise is not something I react well to - long story.

If ever you detail your experience, I would be very interested in reading it. What you describe as a place where there is no gravity and a complete absence of life is exactly what I want to know about and get prepared for.
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3rd-Nov-2006 01:14 pm (UTC)
If you want to be a part of this, then post about it, put up a link to this post in your own LJ. Let's create a movement, something that will enable a life journey for others and bond us all together in such a way as I said in the post that otherwise would be impossible. Let others know you are doing this and see how many people are willing to walk the path.
3rd-Nov-2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
There is no way I'd miss it, Celie. None.
3rd-Nov-2006 01:14 pm (UTC)
If you want to be a part of this, then post about it, put up a link to this post in your own LJ. Let's create a movement, something that will enable a life journey for others and bond us all together in such a way as I said in the post that otherwise would be impossible. Let others know you are doing this and see how many people are willing to walk the path.
(Deleted comment)
3rd-Nov-2006 01:14 pm (UTC)
If you want to be a part of this, then post about it, put up a link to this post in your own LJ. Let's create a movement, something that will enable a life journey for others and bond us all together in such a way as I said in the post that otherwise would be impossible. Let others know you are doing this and see how many people are willing to walk the path.
3rd-Nov-2006 01:19 pm (UTC)
Wow I usually relate to what you write.

this not at all.

All that effort to relive somethign horrible? To what end? For what purpose?

I don't get it.

I went to the International Peace Park in Hiroshima. It was educational. I spent a day there. I cried. Then I went Snowboarding in the Japanese Alps.

Go to a mueum. Cry. Then spend a week in Paris drinking wine and enjoying fine food. You're alive. Why torture yourself? What will that prove? And to whom?
3rd-Nov-2006 01:51 pm (UTC)
To have a better basis for comparison, essentially. For as much as I've read and written on the subject, it's not the same as having the perspective of being there and getting a view into that experience - albeit a very sanitized one.

I want to mark the passing of 40 years of my life (10 more than I ever expected to have) in such a way that I can be made even more humble and understanding for however many years I have remaining, because I really believe that this experience will change me profoundly and make me a better man for myself and others.

Because I feel a deep sense of urgency to do this and honor the memory of what was lost to that time, it is something I feel very compelled to do.

Because I want to feel I've earned the right to celebrate my life with a renewed sense of purpose and direction and not just because it happens to be my birthday. There will be a celebration in honor of my 40th, but I want to do this first and have a better understanding of how fantastic having a life is and what one can accomplish in it by having a basis for comparison such as this one.

Yes, I am alive - yes, I'd like to do all of those things as well, but I want that wine and fine food to taste better than it ever would had I not found a renewed appreciation for my life and everything I have.

"Why torture yourself?" To have made even more real for me something I have difficulty understanding and make some peace with it in one of the only ways I know will for me.

"What will that prove?" That it was real and not a nightmare in time and that a living being, for no other reason than he can, is willing to honor the memory of what was taken, destroyed, and lost - and honor the fact that at one time it all existed and was real and good.

"And to whom?" To me. Regardless of any reason I may give you or anyone, it comes down to this: this is just something I feel I must do.
3rd-Nov-2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
I want to go
I will post about it

I think..by acknowledging this event..these deaths
it will serve to further a sense of responsibility to bring some right in this world
to provide future generations a sense of why life also needs to be celebrated..to show that it's not all about Me..but about what I can mybe leave behind and hopefully any change for the better that I might be fortunate to be apart of
it's clear ot me the motivation to do this. Of course there will be great celebration...of course there will be a party, thankfulness for the fortunate lives we've been granted.
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3rd-Nov-2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
You don't know me, but I just had to reply to this, as something you wrote really struck me:

"Besides, one of my prior incarnations perished in a camp."

As did one of mine. That's something I never thought I'd hear (see) another person say (write). And I'm very glad you've said so--as much as I accept the gifts I have, as well as what I know about some of my prior incarnations, it still feels very lonely sometimes. What you've written here..."raises" is the best word I can come up with...some of that lonliness from me. And that, in and of itself, is a great gift, and one for which I sincerely thank you.

(Hopefully being thanked by some random gal online isn't too weird/annoying/whatnot; I do apologise if it is.)
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5th-Nov-2006 02:38 am (UTC)
I wish I could make that trip with you. For different reasons.

They say if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. Obviously many do not study their history because these horrible things do continue around the world today.

Looking at the past and saying "yeah it happened, it was horrible what difference does it make to revisit it now"? Is a defeatist attitude, it makes us complacent and apathetic to what is happening in the world today.

We can take the lessons of the past and learn how to stop them in the early stages. That's the difference we can make. If going there makes you aware of the enormity of what really happened and you fight even harder to stop this from happening again, then your trip will be worth it!

I'm not ready to share my experiences but, let's just say I can relate to those who were experimented on by Mengele at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Many if not most of my health problems stem from bad medical care.Being experimented on without my consent. Yes, this is still happening today.

There are doctors today who behind closed doors still experiment on human beings.

Going there and seeing the sites may not stop those who are doing this today. Although I did stop this doctor and others who did these things to me from continuing to do it others. I learned we must stand up for injustice whenever we see it no matter what price we have to pay or we have lost our humanity.

I feel going there maybe gives many the resolve to fight to make sure that anytime these horrific things happen we see them for what they are and try to stop them before they become another Holocaust.

Hugs, and thanks for caring for those who can no longer speak for themselves.
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