Somber, lonely Christmas at Auschwitz

Barracks at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Poland

It’s awfully easy to sit back and enjoy the holidays surrounded by family, good food, festive decor & congenial company…and forget about those who happen to be alone or suffering from circumstances they can’t control. For them, the tiniest gift can be so special. Minutes ago I brought a carton of eggnogg and plate of cookies to a man living in a nursing home. His face brightened and his grin lasted during the entire hourlong  visit. He hasn’t been home or tasted eggnogg in over 5 years. It was a simple gesture, but oh so appreciated.

It made me think of the book I just finished reading, “I Survived Auschwitz” by Krystyna Zywulska. Her first-hand account of being imprisoned for several years in the notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, is a haunting, moving and vivid memoir. When you have absolutey nothing, every scrap of food, sock, woolen cap, or a stale piece of bread is prized as gold. Hundreds were shoved into barracks where they slept 10 or more to a platform on all three levels like you see above.  Working in gruesome conditions and unsanitary surroundings, prisoners toiled long hours without food, water or warm clothing. Many were barefoot throughout the winter. And the daily nourishment? Some weak broth and a piece of bread served in the late afternoon. Here is a poem she wrote on her last Christmas Eve in the barracks, 1945, at the urging of her bunkmates.

“And here we are locked in a wire cage, We have our Christmas Eve, we have the sacred tree, Victimized by longing, sadness and poverty, Today we break our wafer together, With you, who are fighting away from their homeland, Whose African sun heat burns, Siberian frost chills, the north wind cools, Take a break you all…Today, God is being born…
 
And with children who may have gifts, but are sitting pathetically in the shade of the Christmas tree, without the loving care, without their mothers’ caresses, And with you…That you, like us, are in the cage, You who know the depths of poverty and the despair of man, And you, my Mom, you only one, far away. In the brightness of this star, which rises for everyone, We salute you…Today, God is being born.
 
Resentment, hatred and grief will pass, In the holy brotherhood of unity will come true, The desire to silence will unite us all, All suffering in the same captivity, The dream of peace will reconcile us all…God is being born.”

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