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Kolot

By Vera Schwarcz

“My first Shabbat here after aliya, I sat at a table with a Holocaust survivor who had been a baby on the Kastner train,” writes Vera Schwarcz, a former resident of West Hartford who now lives in Jerusalem. “Rudolf Kastner (1934-1957) came from my own birth town of Cluj in Transylvania. He worked with the Nazis and paid about $1500 for each person on a train that carried Jews out of Budapest, through Bergen Belsen to Switzerland. I was taught to hate the man early, with mother’s milk as it were. Then, at the Shabbat tale in Jerusalem I listened to the other side – the gratitude for being saved. Rethinking my views – part of the Aliya journey.

“And a poem came.”

 

Who had money in Bergen Belsen
For Rutie Sagi, a “Kastner survivor” 

My parents did,
and so two tickets
were bought on the train
which carried a fraying thread
of hope for life
outside the camps.

They had their first fight
on that train. Father
cried: “Hurry!
Get on, you have
two babies!”

Mother: “No, I am not
going until my sisters
get on! I promised
my father before he left
for Auschwitz to care
for them like my own
children.”

In the end,
we all got on,
with two nameless
boys and the young
the kids before she claimed
them as her own.

The Kastner train pulled out
of Bergen Belsen slowly,
very slowly, finger nails
rage fuming higher
than the engine smoke.

It killed Kastner
thirteen years later
on the streets
of Tel Aviv.

You ask: How do we pass on
hate, rage, memory seven decades
after Bergen Belsen?

“You know why I was
so happy to be married
to my cousin Arieh?

He, too, had been
in Bergen Belsen,
he knew the darkness
when it fell upon me.
Never had to ask
Why.

Why the bottomless
holes in memory’s fabric?
Why birthdates
keep changing
like our names
in different tongues?”
Why?

No words can name
a truth woven between
dread and a world-
swallowing silence.

Vera Schwarcz is professor emerita of history and East Asian studies at Wesleyan University.

Readers are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing to Kolot. Submissions should be sent to judiej@jewishledger.com.

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