Flowers of Wisdom on the Edges of Graves
The following are two of many testimonials of those who have attended the Auschwitz/Bikrenau Bearing Witness retreat.Â They appear in full in the bookÂ â€śAschePerlen â€“ Pearls of Ash & Aweâ€ť (English & German language).
All of Life in This Moment
By Roshi Cornelius Collande
Five days of meditation in Auschwitz. I imagined it to be a place of horror,Â but what I found was a holy place. A place where grief and joy, despair andÂ hope, hate and love, tears and laughter are intertwined in an incomprehensible way.Â A place that constantly questions your being, a place that doesnâ€™tÂ leave you out, that doesnâ€™t allow you to return to your everyday agenda.
In the afternoon, rituals are performed in the barracks of the laborÂ camp, at the gas chambers and crematoria. Everybody can choose betweenÂ Jewish, Christian and Buddhist ceremonies. I specifically rememberÂ a celebration by Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi. A beautiful clear autumn day,Â bright blue sky, old oaks with golden yellow leaves next to Gas ChamberÂ III, birds twitter and some deer are grazing at a distance. We are beside aÂ pond, where the ashes of the killed were dumped. The water reflects theÂ trees. Kaddish, the Jewish Prayer for the Dead, is being read; in Hebrew,Â German, Arabic, in all the languages of those who are attending. May theÂ Great Name whose Desire gave birth to the universe Resound through theÂ Creation â€“ Now! May this Great Presence rule your life and your day and
all lives of our World â€¦â€ť
Who can grasp all this, who can endure it?
Then Jewish Songs of Grief; many tears flow while we sing. And now,Â a Wedding Song, a song that a well-known rabbi had requested to be sungÂ at his funeral. The â€śGreat Name,â€ť the â€śGreat Presence,â€ť as life and death.Â A Wedding Song, very tender at first, then more dynamic, then dancing,Â wildness, joy, yes joy and laughter in the company of 1.5 million dead.Â Deeply shattering, incomprehensible, unbearable for the individual.
OnlyÂ love can endure this â€¦
Inline image above, Roshi Cornelius, on right, at the 2017 Auschwitz-Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.
After all the Years of Looking
By Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmuller
I remember one afternoon when our group of 100 people was sittingÂ on the selection ramp in a big circle. In the center of the circle was theÂ altar with the box containing the lists with names of those murdered here.Â This afternoon snowflakes covered the altar, and little by little they alsoÂ mantled us in meditation, sheeted the stones on the ramp, the roofs of theÂ barracks in the background with a light white layer.Â I was shivering with cold; even though I was sitting on a mat withÂ warm winter clothes, the iciness crept right into my bones. The snow wasÂ blown into our faces by a freezing wind, my eyes watered. As I lookedÂ around the big circle, boundless love arose in me, gratitude and appreciationÂ for this moment.
Appreciation for the people who took it on to cultivate this practiceÂ together, who didnâ€™t flee, who didnâ€™t distract themselves which would beÂ so much easier. I was touched by our courage to bear witness to ourselvesÂ and to the collective history that had assembled us here.Â I felt gratitude towards the practice, here in this place where once thereÂ was so much noise, violence, and horror. To sit in silence together in orderÂ to learn what it means to be human among humans, in order to listen toÂ the teachings of the place.
I sensed that we were welcome, that it was goodÂ to be here.
Bearing Witness at Auschwitz has made me more awake â€“ for the sufferingÂ but also for the joys in the world. I didnâ€™t find answers, but encounteredÂ my urgent desire to appreciate every moment of life. Life is uniquelyÂ precious; I vow to take care of it â€“ here, there, everywhere.
after all the years of
you are a wondering
will there be
flowers of wisdom
on the edges
of the graves,
wet with grief
Above, Roshi Barbara with flowers at the 2018 Auschwitz retreat
RoshiÂ Barbara Salaam WegmĂĽller is a grandmother, a dharma successor of Bernie Glassman andÂ a founding member of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Europe andÂ the development of the Zen Peacemaker Circles. She and her husband Roland are Zen teachers offering weekly Zazen practiceÂ in Spiegel, SwitzerlandÂ and are actively supporting refugees in their area.Â She is aÂ spirit holder in the Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.
RoshiÂ Cornelius v. Collande, Dr.Â is a father, a dharma successor of Bernie Glassman, a psychotherapist working with refugees, a Zen Teacher based at theÂ â€śCentre for Spiritual Ways â€“ Benediktushofâ€ť in Holzkirchen, Germany and a spirit holder in the Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.
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