By Madeline Herrup, Brandeis University
It is difficult to find faith in a town that is coated in a history of darkness.
It is difficult to find faith in a world of darkness.
There images of “there is no god” flow down rivers of sadness, fear, a fear that I don’t specify to this town I mean this world we live in now.
We live in a climate where finding God, HaShem, finding humanity takes on a new meaning.
We live in a world where religion, faith, prayer, all of it is changing.
We stand together in a house, in a synagogue, in the streets,
But now where can we stand?
Safely, that is, because it is not that I as a Jew have lost the ability to stand in any place I wish,
But to remain there peacefully, free of fear, of worries no matter how insignificant,
The world is changing as it always is.
That doesn’t mean the change made a positive impact.
Oswiecim used to be a town with half of its population being Jewish.
A Jewish community no longer exists,
The Great Synagogue of Oswiecim while never photographed was used often,
If not only as a place for prayer than of gathering.
It was one of the first buildings destroyed in WWII.
Green grass now grows where the synagogue used to tower over the town’s civilians,
The memory is there but who remembers it?
The ground is the same but that holy space was forcibly taken,,
That could be said for much of this town that I did not know existed.
Oswiecim and Auschwitz: the same name of the town in Polish and German (respectively).
The camp is in Oswiecim,
The town is Auschwitz though not given such a name on a Polish map,
The town is Oswieicm and it used to thrive with faith, community, Judaism but not all of these exist anymore.
Oswiecim is a town with stores, restaurants, museums,
With tons of people passing in cars, buses, bicycles,
And apartments, houses, and hotels are sprinkled throughout.
Despite life continuing Auschwitz sits,
Oswieicm is a quiet, calm town but does Auschwitz really sit quietly?
Does Auschwitz really sit at all?
Is there still faith to be found in a space that carries this unimaginable weight?
The strength of my faith is everlasting, never broken,
Though I know being a Jew does not seem this easy, and never really is.
I wake up and go to bed with the same question of being a Jew,
This tension that exists within my relationship with HaShem, that’s what keeps it strong for me.
This all doesn’t mean, though, that I have felt a lack of God’s presence.
I did after October 27, 2018.
I did weeks after this.
I did when I stood in my synagogue in Pittsburgh just two weeks ago,
Judaism is a core part of my being.
That does not mean, however, that it is never shaken, never questioned, that it is always with me and doesn’t ebb and flow.
The world changes.
Oswiecim is not the same town before the war,
Before the Holocaust,
What was a vibrant community was not what Jews in the town return to.
Jews now do not even know Oswieicm exists.
How can we not know the town the camp is named for?
The town is Oswiecim, Auschwitz in German.
There is one standing synagogue in the town.
Small yet sturdy, but who knows about it?
Siddurs, prayer books are stacked in the back on shelves.
Pews, benches are laid out in rows in front of the aron kodesh, the Torah ark.
The windows bring in light on the days sunlight allows itself in,
The walls have prayers in Hebrew,
Also from before the war.
Kippot, yarmulkes sit outside for anyone who is asked to or wishes to put one on.
The walls are plain,
But decorated with a holy presence the town may not be lacking as I or others feel.
There is faith to be found in the darkness of history, in the darkness of this world.
All places of prayer can be places of light, of holiness,
Even when once used a places of destruction.
The synagogue still stands while the Great Synagogue is physically no more,
Does that mean one cannot stand on the grass a pray?
Of course not.
That is to say that I cannot bring my siddur into Auschwitz,
Into the camp,
That I should not bring myself into this town at all because of the Jewish community that no longer is,
But the history is there.
The history was not always dark.
The Jewish cemetery in Oswieicm was at one point simply a Jewish cemetery.
The Great Synagogue was just that: a synagogue.
But that can be said for any place of prayer until it is attacked.
The Jews of Oswiecim never documented the Great Synagogue;
Why would someone need to document what would always remain?
The grass can still be a holy place.
Any space is a space for prayer,
God has no limits, no bounds and in my mind,
God is here, too.
And despite the darkness that overshadows the names of Oswieicm and Auschwitz,
God never left and never intends on doing so.
Judaism is here to stay whether in the past, present or future because time is a weird thing, you know.
When I step into a synagogue, I feel God, and I pray.
This is not changing though the world will try to make it.
My Judaism, my faith, my prayer is everlasting.
It is possible to find faith in a town coated in a history of darkness because through it all,
Light still shines into the synagogue in Oswieicm.
We are still here.
I am still here.
This post is part of series of articles written by participants on our “We Will Write Our History” writing seminar in Auschwitz. Learn more at http://togetherrestoring.com/writehistory