The Sum of Books Unwritten

NOTE:  I wrote this on Thursday Sept. 30th, but couldn’t post it until now.

Yesterday (Wed. 9/29) Sara and I drove into Slovakia to go to a hot
springs.  (It turned out to be an annoying “Aqua Park” and not a
hot springs, but that’s another story.)  On the way back, we
stopped in a little town very near the border with Poland.  We got
out of the car and wandered around for a bit.  About a block off
the main square, we passed a pretty white building about three stories
high, with columns around the front door and other modest
decoration.  A bit bigger than the others and certainly more
ornate.  I thought, hmm, could this be the old synagogue? 
Looking up, I noticed two tablets inset into the front of the building
towards the top.  Sure enough, a local woman passing by confirmed
that this was the “synogoga zydowski.”  It’s a shoe store

Before I left for this trip, I told a
colleague that I would be visiting Poland and going to the town where
my grandfather was born.  “That sounds emotional,” he
replied.  Yes, I said, but I thought that seeing Auschwitz and
other Holocaust-related sites would be much more emotional.  It
turns out that the two are inextricably intertwined.  Visiting
Mogielnica was very saddening, because the only traces of my extended
family, and my people, were two huts in the middle of a forest where
the cemetery used to be and an old birth register at City Hall.

It was the same in this town and all across Europe.

It is not just the horribly brutal
and, later on, mechanized way that the Jews were killed.  It’s not
just the hurt and betrayal of the participation of local Poles (not all
of them, of course).  It’s the loss of a people and a culture,
hundreds of years’ worth.  Lives unlived.  Holidays not
celebrated. Gefilte fish not prepared.  Jokes not told.  What
would have happened if the Holocaust had not occurred?  Might a
steady stream of Jews still be going back and forth between New York
and Europe and feeding the once-vibrant Yiddish culture there? 
For that matter, might Yiddish still be widely spoken?  “The sum of books
unwritten,” as someone once said.  That’s the saddest part of all
to me:  lives unlived; a culture nearly erased.

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