Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Iris

Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Iris


(Iris, on right, during 2013 Zen Peacemakers Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat)

¬†This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” –
reflections from 20 years of participants in the Zen Peacemakers
Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.


By Iris Katz, Israel

It was in November 2010. It was my first time in the Bearing Witness Retreat in Auschwitz. Three months before I have visited Bernie in Montague, USA. He had been telling me about the retreat, I told him that I had never been to Auschwitz. I used to have my own fears which prevented me to go there. They were connected to all that I have known about Auschwitz. Bernie convinced me to go. I went.

I had ‚Äúmy‚ÄĚ two tenets to follow: Not-Knowing and Bearing¬†Witness. The first one was very important for me. Forgetting all I knew,¬†all that had made me afraid and horrified of the Holocaust and its Jewish¬†victims that for me was the main issue about Auschwitz till then. Not-Knowing helped me to go, to be there and to bear witness with some sort¬†of empty mind.¬†Many experiences and few transformations were the outcome of my¬†first retreat in Auschwitz. But one of these experiences changed my life.¬†This one was connected to Ihab, the Israeli-Palestinian from the city of¬†Jaffa, Israel.

Ihab, my husband Tani and I became close friends during the retreat.¬†We felt like cousins (which we are, mythologically) or friends who grew up¬†together since childhood, many years back. We speak the same language,¬†share the same history, and have the same background and ideas. I mean,¬†I felt close or oneness with many people in the group. I felt close to psychologists¬†or therapists, for example. I felt close to the victims and I even¬†could feel their guards who had been ‚Äúsharing‚ÄĚ their lives on that place.¬†But with Ihab it was different. We had our jokes, our joint stories, our¬†small idiosyncratic talks, our combined ideas.¬†But ‚Ķ I was an Israeli, a Jewish Israeli, and Ihab was Israeli as well, but¬†‚ÄúArab‚ÄĚ Israeli, as we keep saying in my country, or Palestinian Israeli, as¬†‚Äúthey‚ÄĚ keep saying in my country. ‚ÄúThey,‚ÄĚ that is the ‚ÄúArabs‚ÄĚ in Israel. It¬†was a painful recognition to reflect on that in Auschwitz Ihab and myself¬†were equals, close, just the same people, having different religions ‚Äď but in¬†Israel we were not equal at all. Mainly, our particular communities were¬†not equal at all.¬†It was like a wide opening in my consciousness: the insight, active and¬†alive in me, that I have to do something about this. This special and deep¬†insight into my sick society has brought me to the decision that has become¬†a path in my life. This path was dedicating myself to give my share in making ‚ÄúArabs‚Ä̬†and ‚ÄúJews‚ÄĚ in Israel more equal, bringing them closer, having them experience¬†the same recognition, respect, and dignity.(…)


This is an excerpt and appears in full¬†in the book¬†“AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015)¬†Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski,¬†in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at:




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  1. petriana monize : August 7, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you Iris.

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