Flowers on the Edges of Graves: Greg
Â This post is another in the series “Flowers on the Edges of Graves” –
reflections from 20 years of participants inÂ the Zen Peacemakers
Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreats since 1996.
By Greg Rice, USA
OSWIECIM, POLAND. This last November I quit fishing early to attend the annual Bearing WitnessÂ Retreat at Auschwitz, Poland. After an all-day flight, I arrived at theÂ hotel in KrakĂłw after dark, tired and unsure of what I was doing there.Â Within minutes I was invited to dinner with a group of other participants.
I felt welcomed in as part of this retreat immediately, and my doubtsÂ vanishedâ€¦Â In the big changing room of the â€śsaunaâ€ť was a display of thousands ofÂ photos collected by the guards as they stripped the prisoners of their lives.Â Sitting in that room, we sang a simple song, the first line of which wasÂ â€śhow could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautifulâ€ť.
We all sang, in this dreadful room, first looking each other in the eyes,Â then at the beautiful pictures of happy children, of lovers, of grandmothers.Â Pictures taken in a time in their lives when they were happy, a time inÂ their lives like this time in ours. And then they experienced what no livingÂ being should ever experience. It broke my heart, walking slowly throughÂ these walls of photos, singing â€śhow could anyone see you as anything lessÂ than beautiful.â€ť How could they?Â One day, as we stood in a circle around the blown-up remains of CrematoriumÂ chamber IV, we all read the Kaddish in our native tongue. It was read in atÂ least eight different languages. At the end, Reb Shir blew on the Shofar â€“Â the ramâ€™s horn. It was the first time I had ever heard it. The sound broughtÂ tears to my eyes. It seemed a strong and ancient call to the world, to theÂ ashes, to all that keeps us separate. It was a voice saying we are still here, weÂ will always be here, all of us. It was the sound of perseverance and inclusiveness.Â To me, a secular guy, the sound of that Shofar was Holy.
There is a teaching that says, if you meet the Buddha on the road, killÂ the Buddha. What needs to be killed is the sense of truth, of knowing, theÂ root of this separateness that keeps us apart. It seems almost impossible toÂ consider the Nazis who committed these crimes as just like us, as of ourÂ tribe. Yet if we canâ€™t, we are living the same exclusionary view (…)
This is an excerpt and appears in fullÂ in the bookÂ “AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe. 20 Years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman & Zen Peacemakers” (2015)Â Edited by Kathleen Battke, Ginni Stern, and Andrzej Krajewski,Â in German and English. Printed copies or e-book available at: https://janando.de/steinrich/en
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