Readers may recall that, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I put up a quick post lamenting that I wasn't seeing much mainstream-media coverage of this haunting event. I also noted that hoped we would see more coverage -- logically -- on the day after, with news stories focusing on the content of the anniversary events.
I hoped that would happen and that was, at quite a few publications, precisely what happened.
The newspaper's foreign desk also contributed a stunning story -- "A Nightmare Revisited" -- reported from Auschwitz, where 300 survivors returned to what it called the "bloodiest site of the Holocaust." And there was a sidebar listening to the voices of Auschwitz survivors.
I recommend these stories highly. Yet, I do so even as I note that the news stories failed to dig into the impact of this singular event, this singular vision of evil, on the lives of post-Holocaust Jews as religious believers and on the Jewish faith in general.
The timeless theodicy question, of course: Where was God?
OK, I will ask: Where were the God issues in these otherwise fine news reports? Take, for example, the missed opportunities for poignant -- and crucial -- content in the local story from the Holocaust Museum. At the very top, readers are told:
The sound of Jacqueline Mendels Birn’s cello filled the Hall of Remembrance like a lament.
The notes, low and sorrowful, were those of “Ani Ma’amin,” a song of Jewish faith said to have been sung by concentration-camp prisoners on their way to the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust.
It was a sound like a human voice, said, Birn, 79, a French Holocaust survivor, who wore black earrings and black clothing in the Holocaust Memorial Museum ... as she played a requiem for the lost millions.
Simply stated: Does this song -- "Ani Ma’amin (I Believe)" -- have lyrics? Might a few lines be relevant?
In other words, why not quote at least a few lines of what the victims were reported to have sung as they went to their deaths? It is, after all, a song of Jewish faith. Click here for one version of the song. Some of the words, in English:
I believe with complete faith
In the coming of the Messiah, I believe ...
And even though he may tarry
Nonetheless I will wait for him
And even though he may tarry
Nonetheless I will wait for him ... I believe
Is this poignant? Would some say this is both painful and ironic? Is it hard to even contemplate, in that context?
A few lines later, the Post sailed right past another chance for religious content.
During the ceremony, Holocaust survivors spoke to the gathering, victims’ names were read, and one survivor, Manny Mandel, recited kaddish, a traditional prayer often said in mourning.
“We say kaddish today for all those for whom there is no one to say kaddish,” he said.
The prayer was followed by a moment of silence.
OK, I will ask the same question. The content of Mourning Kaddish is of tremendous relevance to this event, in part because -- again -- it is a statement of belief and even hope, in spite of its connection to death and grief. Is this a relevant issue in Jewish life and culture, in a post-Holocaust world? Anyone who has read works linked to post-Holocaust theology and even sociology know the answer to that.
What does the Kaddish say, in part?
Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
According to "his will"? Once again, there is the theodicy issue in all of its power.
Many readers would know the Kaddish. Many more would not. Why not quote a few words to show the content of the actual rite that was being covered?
Still, I want to recommend these stories. Please hear me say that. The end of this story was especially power, stressing the power of the memories of the survivors who will not be with us much longer. And, as one participant said, right now the world is "closer to the spirit of the 1930s than the 1990s."
Here is the end of the piece:
When Birn, the cellist, who lives in Bethesda, Md., finished playing, she carefully laid down her instrument, which she has had since she was 11. She went to light a candle herself.
She was a little girl, born in Paris, when the Germans conquered France, and with her family managed to elude Hitler’s henchmen. “We were hiding,” she said.
“We were first in Paris, then we fled,” she said. “My parents were arrested. And, miracle after miracle, we were not put in a camp.”
Other members of her family were not so fortunate. “So much of my family, so many members, were murdered in Auschwitz,” she said. “It’s very painful for me.” She went on: “Two hundred members of my extended family were murdered. It’s a horrible background that I have. I have no family.”
Grandmother, uncles, cousins.
“They were all murdered,” she said.
The. Words. Quote. Them.