Thursday, June 11, 2015

His Death Was Certain

I stand in the shade, lean into the base of a yellow birch tree trunk and tune in to a story about the fate of one Jewish man during the holocaust.The sparrows chirp in the background,and I strain to comprehend the archivist’s narrative through the low volume on my phone.

Several days before, I was asked to translate a letter from Yiddish to English written by the man’s widow. I am stymied by the handwriting, but fully intrigued by the possibility of finding a clue that will ultimately lead to the puzzling discordant ending to this family's search.

Did he die at the camps? Or was he betrayed and shot to death by his rescuers?

Either way, he has died without burial, without eulogy, without closure. Seventy years later his family continues to discern what happened to their beloved husband, father, grandfather.

His death is certain. How he died is not. The murdered victim’s epilogue is missing but through what final action?

Holding the document in my hand, I become part of the string of events that might reveal some surety about the chain of events that lead to one man’s terrible demise. It had to be terrible. It was 1944.

My curiosity has now become my burden, and my burden has become my sacred task. His denouement has become personal. Our destinies have collided beyond death.

As I linger on each cursive letter, his life and death begin to matter to me. How can this be? Last week, he was one of the six million. This week, he is one of my ancestors who traveled through my Yiddish- speaking childhood reminding me of other conversations and other incongruities about my family’s past.We call them, the lost ones. Now,I am lost in discovery and in doubt, floating in mystery amid words and paragraphs, sentences without periods, and signs without sounds. Like a Chagall painting, I am in dream mode that slowly regresses into a nightmare.

I place the manuscript in a folder labeled: to be translated. Tomorrow I will struggle to find a message of comfort in this two page document. I am not certain that I will.

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