Why I Cry?
The summer of 2000 was a
summer I will never forget. At 4:00 AM I rolled out of bed excited and
temporarily refreshed although I had not gotten a minute of sleep. I had
spent all night thinking of the proper hiding spot for my invaluable Joe
DiMaggio baseball card. He was a symbol of excellence and perseverance,
and my role model. I grabbed my bag, which as usual looked like a neatly
packed laundry bag and went to the airport to board a plane to Israel,
where I would be for an entire summer; fifteen years old and fifteen
thousand miles away from my parents. I boarded the plane and kissed my
parents goodbye. Finally I was on my way. Although the program lasted two
months, there is one day in particular I will remember for the rest of my
life. The date, along with every other occurrence that day, I have
forgotten completely, yet a certain ten minutes I remember vividly. Those
few moments conveyed to me a lesson of altruism, which will be with me for
the rest of my life.
My program arrived at Yad Vashem with the sun. We had almost beaten it that day after our much needed five-hour so-called good night rest. Yad Vashem is an imposing structure overlooking Jerusalem where it stands as a testament to the horrors of the Holocaust. We were ordered to fill our water bottles, put on our hats, and get off the bus. Like a well-trained army on one of its worst days, we scuffled around looking at a myriad of pictures and documents from the concentration camps. There was complete silence, the atmosphere had become quite sad. There was no need for words; tears spoke for my friends. However I felt awkward. I was just as upset as my friends, but I was a complete stranger to their feelings. While they felt pain and sadness for the six million Jews who were slaughtered, I felt pained by the fact that I could not cry for the dead. I was not able to feel the victims' pain. I had never experienced any pain in my life that could parallel these atrocities I was witnessing.
Amid my confusion, our group reached a sculpture and we sat down around it so that our tour guide, an exotic looking Frenchwomen or maybe an Oriental somehow misplaced in an Israeli museum, could address us. We faced a statue of the Jewish hero Janusz Korczak and his orphans, whom he had gathered in his hands. Until this moment I had never heard his name, but it soon became a name I would never forget. Elana told us the story of his life.
Janusz was a renowned Jewish doctor and writer who practiced in Germany during the midtwentieth century. He ran and eventually became emotionally attached to an orphanage where Jewish children were given food and vocational training so that they could become self-sufficient. In 1940, the Warsaw ghetto was formed and the Jewish orphanage was forced to move into it. In the ghetto Janusz continued to run the orphanage despite the horrendous environment.
The Nazi government tried to persuade Janusz to leave the ghetto because his medical expertise made him a valuable asset. However, Janusz refused to desert his orphans. He went with them into the ghetto. On August 6, 1942, the Nazis rounded up the children from all the ghetto institutions, including Janusz's orphanage. Janusz probably understood that this deportation meant death, but he made sure to remain in good spirits in order not to frighten the children. We were told that a Nazi solider walked up to Janusz and offered him a last opportunity to save his life. He would be granted immunity if he became a doctor for the Germans. However, by doing this he would be forced to abandon his children. He refused the offer. Janusz marched together with his orphans through the ghetto in silence and they were transported like cattle in small and dirty cars to the Treblinka, where Janusz Korczak and his orphans were gassed while holding hands.
After hearing this, I was in a state of shock. I could not comprehend how one could care more about helping others than saving himself. This was the pinnacle of unselfishness. I was horrified that such an honorable person should have his life ended in such a way. I felt physically drained as though I had no strength in me to walk on and see the rest of the memorials. I just sat there looking into the sculpture. I focused on the sculpture's arms. His arms are outstretched over his children as though to protect them, but death is inevitable. With his arms he tries desperately to hold on to his orphans, but his stone hands are crumbling: he is losing his orphans. When I stared into his eyes I saw what pain and suffering truly are. I saw how he cared for others. I saw how I could cry for others.
Janusz's story repeated itself over and over again in my mind. Each time it overwhelmed me with a new sense of grief. Before I had been grieving because I could not grieve, but now I grieved because I could. I mourned over the six million Jews who were murdered. All the memorials were no longer names, pictures, and documents to me. Instead they became monuments of heroes.
Afterward, my group got up and walked on. However, I stayed back, too sad to walk on. Eventually, I realized that I had lost my group. But it was strange; losing my group did not bother me. I continued to sit there. All I could do was stare into the statue, thinking and crying. I sat there for about ten minutes, twenty, maybe thirty-seven just staring, thinking, and crying. Joe DiMaggio will always be my hero. However I now had found a greater man to think about, make me cry, and inspire me.
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by
the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.