Friday, January 28, 2011


Sixty-six years ago yesterday, Soviet troops liberated 7,000 prisoners at Auschwitz. I can't imagine what it must have been like for those people - any of them - the prisoners or the soldiers. When I try to connect to the energy of that moment, I feel dizzy and have to go lie down for a minute. It surely must have been intense. I imagine a shattering of the energetic boundary around the camp, a slap upside the head for the liberating soldiers, an awakening from the nighmare for the prisoners. Whoa.

That was a whole lifetime ago, eight years before I was born, almost to the day. I'm beginning to understand, at a very deep level, that IF I decide to visit the camp during my time in Poland, the most important strategy to get me through the experience will be to remain in the present moment.

I got into trouble on the Civil War battlefields because I allowed myself to wander in time backwards to the battles themselves. It's kind of easy to do that because there are so many ghosts still fighting the battles over and over again. The re-enactors just make things worse, in my opinion.

In fact, during the time I was studying the Civil war, I became, in some way, stuck somewhere between 1860 and 1865. Whenever I was out and about, I identified locations based on what was happening then, not now. As I walked through Lincoln Park, or sat in the rotunda at the Capitol, I would think, "This was a hospital." (Both were.) It was an interesting experience, but not exactly healing in any way.

When we were little kids, my parents taught us about the Holocaust. They were still so traumatized by it that I believe they went too far, showing us the pictures and such. I can remember my mother saying, "Don't ever walk willingly into an oven!" That is such a weird thing to say, isn't it?

Maybe because of their (understandable) vociferousness, or due to my unfortunate past life experience in the Holocaust, or both, I've spent my whole life slightly afraid of being dragged off at any given moment, imprisoned, starved and killed. Seriously, it's always there, just under the surface. I know it's not rational, and yes I've worked on this issue in several different kinds of therapy. The fear lingers, even though it's not supposed to.

The black hole of World War II was so huge, I believe it captured some bit of my soul, sucked it down into the darkness where it remains to this day, swirling around and around. I want to retrieve my soul, bring it forward in time to 2011. I'm ready. So you see this is why I spend so much time thinking about the trip to Poland, why I'm working so hard to prepare for whatever it is I'll decide to do when I get there.

I know a lot of my journey will be focused on having fun: drinking vodka, listening to klezmer music, hanging out in the medieval square in the center of Krakow with my friend. Maybe I'll go to Oswiecim, maybe not. I don't think there's any way I can understand what I'll want/need to do until my feet are on the ground in Poland. I'll let the land guide me, and the weather, you know.

Without slipping backwards in time, this morning I am remembering those who died at Auschwitz, with respect and love, remembering those who somehow survived, with awe. Remembering the guys who had to go in there and help the survivors out. Holy cow.

Holocaust Remembrance Day was yesterday, so I'm a little late. Oh well. Happy Friday y'all. Carpe diem! Shalom.


Val said...

struggling to find the words Reya; do you think you could stay in the present if you went there?? would it be possible? the Holocaust ranks among the purest of horrors in our history on this amazing planet. We were raised on the stories of WW2 - my parents were young and both involved in the war against this - so it was real to us too. For many years peace followed as a result of this horror. It must be remembered. 66 years eh. it sounds long and short at the same time. hugs xx
when are you going to Poland????

Reya Mellicker said...

Long and short, yes.

I don't know if I'll be able to stay in the present, or even if I'll go to the camp, but I believe that practicing staying in the moment is my best strategy for negotiating the experience.

September is when we're going. I'm not going alone! Heading there with a dear friend/sister. She's Polish and has been to Krakow before.

Reya Mellicker said...

Should also have said, thanks for this, Val!! Your thoughts are always important to me.

ellen abbott said...

You are not alone Reya. that fear of being hauled off, imprisoned, killed I think resides in most Jews under the surface. I know it does in my husband. He's not the least fooled by the seeming acceptance of jews nowadays. He knows people will turn on a dime. He still remembers being discriminated against as a kid. when I converted, the rabbi made it plain that I was letting myself in for the possibility of being discriminated against or worse, being hauled off if the tide turned against jews again. it's not an unreasonable fear given the history of the way the world has treated jews.

Angela said...

I am a German, as you know. I was born in 1948, three years after the war had ended. When I grew up, there was a big silence, everywhere. In school I NEVER leanred about WWII. Our teachers had either been involved, somehow, denying it, or affected by the bombing/fleeing/losing husbands, only able to think of this - and no one, as far as I remember said, We have been a horror to others! But in a way, many many (not all), have been, even if "only" by looking away. Most people said, But we have not KNOWN!
Which is incredible.
But I had to grow up with this history. I was a German, a daughter of the "doers". How can you bear that? My parents, my teachers and neighbours, they have treated other human beings like non-humans. I still cry when I hear a single story of just one family who was abducted and killed, let alone so so many.
Why the Jews? I truthfully have never understood this. All the Jewish people I have ever met were just lovely people. I never heard one explanation. (as if there were an explanation... but you know what I mean). I think it was mostly jealousy.
Do you believe me that I feel as abhorred at what happened as any other feeling human being?
Love to you, Reya!

jeanette from everton terrace said...

Knowing that genocide is still going on in the world is more than I can comprehend I think. How lucky we are to be in a safe place for now, wow, so lucky.

The photo of the footprint made me think it would be so interesting to walk in your shoes for a day Reya, so interesting.

The Bug said...

This post brought tears to my eyes - it's just so incomprehensible. And then Angela's comment - I can't even imagine what that would be like.

But I think you should go. It might be harder than you can imagine, or it might be easier than you think. But I know it will be healing - I just feel that it will.

Reya Mellicker said...

Angela I don't even blame the Nazis for what happened. When we blame them, it comes from the assumption that they were in their right minds. I promise you, they were not well. Something swept over your country, like the dementors. I think Hitler and all those in charge were riddled with demons and I think those demons appeared to them in a very definite form: they looked like Jews.

Angela, do you think you can let go of feeling any kind of responsibility for what happened? It happened, and it's done now. I think part of the healing that needs to take place is a release of the energy, while remembering what went down.

The passing away of that generation will help another layer of this unwind. Onwards and upwards.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Wow, Reya. What your mom said.

I first read about the Holocaust in 1967 in the Saturday Evening Post, when I was 11. The article was called "Escape from Treblinka," and I had no idea what I was going to read about--an exciting adventure?

After I was done throwing up, and, really, ever since, I've wondered and worried about what would make people march children into gas chambers. I don't mean people in command, I mean the people running the trains, patroling the fences, living next door, following orders.

I really worry about following orders.

Please keep yourself safe.

Linda Sue said...

Growing up, my brother and I were sheltered from that horror- but it was in the air- we knew of it through to our very cores...I had hiding places chosen, my brother had magazines hidden depicting the horrors and the torture and the methods-he was curious- I was terrified, very sad, a bit of doubt that such things could actually have happened.
There were German people in our little town and only a few Jewish families- there was a hush re: both.
I don't know how you are going to do it, Reya...but you will - there will be protection for you when you need it. Choose good hiding places.
Oddly enough on a much smaller scale - our town doctor had made a lamp shade, an ash tray and a pair of shoes out of one of the outlaws that my Great Grandfather tracked down and hung. They , of course were on the side of "right" ...such disconnect and cruelty from "upstanding" folks multiplied by dozens and dozens coupled with hypnosis (propaganda) and fear and there you go-

Cindy said...

Such a deep wound for so many people in the world to bear. I think this will take calling in all of your guides and protectors. I remember visiting Dachau. It was impossible for me to stay in the present moment.
I will keep you in my prayers.

Reya Mellicker said...
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Reya Mellicker said...

Maybe I'll write more about how I'm thinking about the Nazi thinking. It was not rational, and it was not healthy but we accept similar mindsets, we do.

Such as: research scientists. Even though they know that chimps are more closely related to us than they are to apes, and even though we know chimps to be intelligent, sentient. They can communicate, they grieve over their dead - they aren't that different than we are. Still, research scientists are only too happy to torture them in the lab. It's OK by our cultural standards.

I also think of industrial farming, the way the animals are treated. We think this is perfectly ok when it's clear as a bell that it is unthinkably cruel. I think the Nazis had the research scientists/industrial farming thought form going on - directed at Jews, gypsies, gay people, old people and such, but still, not any different.

This is NOT an excuse for what happened. The Nazis were bedeviled. They were knocked down by evil. I don't blame them.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow, what great comments! Thanks to all who weighed in here.

Cyndy, did you TRY to stay in the present moment?

Linda Sue - you and me, we were there. No wonder ...

Rebecca it really is nauseating, isn't it?

Cindy said...

Reya, It was many years ago, and no, I didn't try to stay in the present moment, I didn't even think about it. But I'm sure that would make a huge difference in how you experience it- and I know you can do it. I went in and out of the present and the past-but the pull of the past was very powerful.

Winston Riley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Winston Riley said...

i've always thought that there is some big weird universe thing going on with Hitler. The persecution of the Jews in history is weird enough and significant, but Hitler was this force, so abberant it seems. I think what you feel is so real. Not only ghosts from battlefields, but your ancestors run through your veins. I love your word palpable. I ache too by the memory of those images, especially the children

Barbara said...

very powerful post Reya. I have always felt a deep connection to soldiers from both World Wars, but have never explored that connection. Your post brought me to tears. I will live vicariously through you as you visit Poland.

Thanks for sharing.


loveable_homebody said...

Beautiful piece. You seem to feel that maybe your readers will think it's weird that you think this way. I don't. I think a lot of people do. I do.

I think you're experiencing something called post-memory. I did a presentation on this a few years ago in university, relating it to a book called "Maus" that may interest you.

This kind of horror surely survives generations through witnessing not only the stories from family members and others who lived it, but through the choices they made, through your knowledge that if you had been born earlier, you may have gone through the same thing, to hurt knowing that people of your religion were hated so much, to know that this hate still exists in the world.

I inferred that you are Jewish. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Reya Mellicker said...

Maus was so great! Thanks for reminding me; I had forgotten all about it.

I am Jewish, yes - also a priestess of Mongolian shamanism, a sometime Buddhist, sometimes Christian (at Easter, mostly). There may some other traditions I borrow from.

Post memory is an interesting way to describe it. I have felt the fear but didn't connect with the memories until very recently in my life.

Thanks so much for your thoughts!

Pauline said...

I had a friend who believed that our feelings of past lives and our occasional sense of deja vu came from the memories of our ancestors imbedded in our genes; perhaps we had not been in a given place or century before our birth into this one, but THEY had and their memories are as much a part of our genetic makeup as any other trait. He believed they were triggered by any of our five senses. Whether or no, each of us has unique experiences that oftentimes can't be explained successfully to someone who holds different beliefs or has never had similar experiences.

I'm old enough now to realize that the only person I ever have to convince is me. I've also come to see that going with my "gut instinct" is more often than not the right way to go. Over-thinking a situation has always made a muddle of my ability to act in beneficial ways. Intuition is a survival mechanism; rational thought comes immediately on its heels. It will be interesting to follow along as you make your choices. I'm hoping that whatever unsettled feelings you have find their way into a place where you can deal with them.

Jo said...

Oh Reya, what a powerful post, and equally powerful comments.

I was particularly struck by what your mother said to you as a child. I had an instant flashback to my father telling us once, as all six children sat around the dinner table, that "if you were to be burned at the stake, inhale the smoke to render yourself unconscious before you burn to death."

I have no idea what parents are thinking sometimes. I guess that's why I've always been so careful about what I cause to be inserted into the souls of children.

I wish you peace and wisdom on this very important journey.

loveable_homebody said...

Hi Reya, no problem. I find it fascinating that you only connected with these memories or post-memory until recently in your life, especially because in Maus, the son grew up with post-memory. Thanks for explaining your religions.

Natalie said...

Wrap yourself in lots of beautiful shiny light, Reya, and keep looking at the ground.♥

The Pollinatrix said...

Reya, I feel a strong sense of trust in your process on this. I think you're right on with the stay in the moment strategy - I believe this will be the key to your healing around this in an amazing way.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Natalie and Polly. I actually think I'm making progress with this! It feels right and good.

California Girl said...

Angela left a powerful comment; it answers questions I've had for years since visiting Germany.

A close friend and I toured Western Europe in 1971. We were
19 and spent 3 mos overseas. My cousin was stationed in Frankfurt so that was our home base and we spent a good amount of time in Germany even though we backpacked through many other countries. My GF is Jewish; I'm Protestant. We decided to spend a day @ Dachau. It is considered the best preserved of all remaining concentration camps, i.e. American soldiers left bldgs & showers & crematorium standing. It was an intense experience and we cried like children but we educated ourselves. I've never forgotten it and to this day I'm glad I did it. It led me to read much of the history of Hitler, Germany & WWII. To read that it was not discussed in German schools or by much of anyone perhaps does not surprise me. In 1971, Frankfort still showed the remains of bombing in some areas as did other parts of Germany. It must have been a daily reminder that people had to face. I don't understand the mentality of a nation following someone like Hitler and turning their faces from facts but learning from the past is key to the future.

I wish you well on your journey.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks California girl.

Nazi Germany was not a rational mind space. There was madness there, and demons. I don't blame anyone for what happened. Something swept over the land. I have theories; looking forward to reading A.G. Adler, who wrote poetry while he was in concentration camps. He never refers to Nazis, but he often speak of craziness, insanity.

When people talk about how the Germans turned their backs on what was happening, this is a judgment based on the idea that they consciously, and rationally, decided not to address what was happening. My guess is, nothing could be further from the truth.

Clearly I'll have to write more about this.

Kerry said...

What a lot of excellent comments have been left here. When you go to Poland I imagine it will be some kind of roller coaster ride for you, both exhilarating and haunting. The forethought that you give it will certainly help to ground you, but how can anyone completely prepare for such an experience?

Reya Mellicker said...

I don't even hope to completely prepare ... I'll do what I can and fly by the seat of my pants when I get there.

YES excellent comments!

Barbara Martin said...

Tragic time period. My earliest exposure to people who had been in a concentration camp was seeing a series of numbers branded on a woman's forearm. Her sleeve had slipped down while she drank a coffee at a table across from where I was sitting with my mother. I was about 5. When the woman caught me staring, she pulled down her sleeve and put her coat back on. I still recall how tired and stressed she looked. My mother explained to me later what the numbers were, and this view has stayed with me ever since. That this couple were so very lucky to have been set free after their ordeal.

As for what the Nazis did at that time, not all of them agreed with what was going on. One of my cousins was taken from a camp by a Nazi officer who had had enough of what was transpiring, had authority to take 5 prisoners with him. My cousin, Norman, was one of the lucky ones. He was taken as far as Bavaria where the officer came from, and Norman made his way to Italy and then home to Canada.