The following are two of many testimonials of those who have attended the Auschwitz/Bikrenau Bearing Witness retreat. They appear in full in the book “AschePerlen – Pearls of Ash & Awe” (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, but what I found was a holy place. A place where grief and joy, despair and hope, hate and love, tears and laughter are intertwined in an incomprehensible way. A place that constantly questions your being, a place that doesn’t leave you out, that doesn’t allow you to return to your everyday agenda.
In the afternoon, rituals are performed in the barracks of the labor camp, at the gas chambers and crematoria. Everybody can choose between Jewish, Christian and Buddhist ceremonies. I specifically remember a celebration by Rabbi Ohad Ezrahi. A beautiful clear autumn day, bright blue sky, old oaks with golden yellow leaves next to Gas Chamber III, birds twitter and some deer are grazing at a distance. We are beside a pond, where the ashes of the killed were dumped. The water reflects the trees. Kaddish, the Jewish Prayer for the Dead, is being read; in Hebrew, German, Arabic, in all the languages of those who are attending. May the Great Name whose Desire gave birth to the universe Resound through the Creation – Now! May this Great Presence rule your life and your day and
all lives of our World …”
Who can grasp all this, who can endure it?
Then Jewish Songs of Grief; many tears flow while we sing. And now, a Wedding Song, a song that a well-known rabbi had requested to be sung at his funeral. The “Great Name,” the “Great Presence,” as life and death. A Wedding Song, very tender at first, then more dynamic, then dancing, wildness, joy, yes joy and laughter in the company of 1.5 million dead. Deeply shattering, incomprehensible, unbearable for the individual.
Only love can endure this …
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 sitting on the selection ramp in a big circle. In the center of the circle was the altar with the box containing the lists with names of those murdered here. This afternoon snowflakes covered the altar, and little by little they also mantled us in meditation, sheeted the stones on the ramp, the roofs of the barracks in the background with a light white layer. I was shivering with cold; even though I was sitting on a mat with warm winter clothes, the iciness crept right into my bones. The snow was blown into our faces by a freezing wind, my eyes watered. As I looked around the big circle, boundless love arose in me, gratitude and appreciation for this moment.
Appreciation for the people who took it on to cultivate this practice together, who didn’t flee, who didn’t distract themselves which would be so much easier. I was touched by our courage to bear witness to ourselves and to the collective history that had assembled us here. I felt gratitude towards the practice, here in this place where once there was so much noise, violence, and horror. To sit in silence together in order to learn what it means to be human among humans, in order to listen to the teachings of the place.
I sensed that we were welcome, that it was good to be here.
Bearing Witness at Auschwitz has made me more awake – for the suffering but also for the joys in the world. I didn’t find answers, but encountered my urgent desire to appreciate every moment of life. Life is uniquely precious; I vow to take care of it – 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
Roshi Barbara Salaam Wegmüller is a grandmother, a dharma successor of Bernie Glassman and a founding member of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Europe and the development of the Zen Peacemaker Circles. She and her husband Roland are Zen teachers offering weekly Zazen practice in Spiegel, Switzerland and are actively supporting refugees in their area. She is a spirit holder in the Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.
Roshi Cornelius v. Collande, Dr. is a father, a dharma successor of Bernie Glassman, a psychotherapist working with refugees, a Zen Teacher based at the “Centre for Spiritual Ways – Benediktushof” in Holzkirchen, Germany and a spirit holder in the Auschwitz/Birkenau Bearing Witness Retreat.