By Inna Rogatchi ~ Excerpt from DARK STARS, WISE HEARTS BOOK—
The wagon was set aside. To enter into that was optional. I found myself inside before realising what I was doing.
I have seen similar cattle wagons before, in different places, both inside museum walls and outside, in natural environment, in Auschwitz, at Yad Vashem, in Washington, you name it. I filmed them practically in every place I saw them: in Poland, in Israel, in Ukraine, in the United States. I filmed and photographed them because they were as if speaking to me. Or somebody from there, from inside, did.
I could touch the wagons but I never dared. I thought that I have no right to do it. I saw the elderly survivor from Italy crying uncontrollably, with his head laying on the cattle wagon’s wooden plank in Auschwitz, his wife trying to console him unsuccessfully, and I knew that I was right in distancing myself from a physical contact with those wagons. I had no right to touch it. I was not there at the time.
But I felt the energy of that horror. I felt it physically, and it did not start from the wagons. The first time I did, it was in Mauthausen when I was filming for The Lessons of Survival, my film on and with Simon Wiesenthal, a dear friend. In Mauthausen, the light-blue doors with such nice roses painted on them circling DUSCHE sign in that cosy pastoral style made me rave. But I had no time for emotions, I was working. I had to concentrate.
Then we stepped into the crematorium building and were working there. Then we proceed into the ‘medical’ rooms. Then to torture chambers.
My experienced Finnish camera-man who spent twenty years filming wars in Africa, did confess to me in the evening when we both were drinking quietly after a long day: “Have you noticed that I lost conscience a couple of times when filming in the chambers? Sorry if the stuff would not be stable at some moments”, – he sighed. I did not cry there in the chambers. I did not cry after that work at all for three years.
But I felt the horror in all those empty today places of the camp which were so overcrowded fifty years before I stepped in there. I felt like the very air inside the chambers and the places leading to it had been very thick with nothing but a sheer horror. The Mauthausen walls preserved it intact.
I felt the energy of murdered people, my Jewish brethren, in many places plagued with Shoah: inside the barracks of Birkenau, next to the ditches of Paneriai, at the numerous ravines in Ukraine. I felt it in all those ghettos where I was walking through once and again, in Crakow, Warsaw, Vilna. I felt it on the Danube embankment at the place of the mass assassination and drowning of the helpless people just on the spot. I still feel it ever since, regarding all those places .
The first time that I was told about the Nazi camps and the people’s indescribable suffering there, as well as unimaginable heroism occurred in response, I was six. My mother has told me the story of doctor Korczak and the children from his Jewish orphanage, the kids whom he did not leave although he was able to do it, but instead was comforting them all the way to Treblinka, perishing together. For my mother who was a teacher and a student of prolific linguist, professor David Alba whose entire family including his wife and children died in the Warsaw Ghetto, there was no higher example of human devotion and exploit than the one undertaken by Janusz Korczak. And timing-wise, the stories from the camps were quite close to us. My mom has become a student and heard the Korczak story from her professor just eight years after the end of the war. How grateful I am to her for being wise in her heart to tell about it to me when I was a little child and doing it until the end of her life.
For the first time I heard and saw the real person who had an occasional, but repeating distinct sensation of being back to a ghetto street and running with some older woman from a round-up, from my third cousin. She was twenty year me senior, and like my mother, she was the child of the war. Fanja was the only child of two military doctors and spent all years of the war together with her parents in numerous military trains and hospitals, being bombed there not for once. She became a doctor, naturally. Fanja was dry, savvy and highly intelligent, very much no-nonsense person. She did not share her sensations with anyone before starting to talk with me about it, she said. She was shocked and described her visions as full of senses – the smells, the lights, the colours, the visions of certain streets, corners and basements. Fanja told me about that sweeping, colossal, paralysing fear that had been overcoming her at the times of those moments. I have told her that my only understanding of it is that some sparks of the souls who were murdered during Holocaust, the tattooed souls as I call them, has entered the Fanja’s own soul, to live inside there. I have no any other explanation to her baffled questions.
Later on, travelling the world from one its corner to another, I have to meet more and more people like Fanja who, in my understanding, are also hosting some sparks from the souls of the Country of Six Million. It is explicable, as all those souls were not leaving the bodies which they had inhabited, due to natural causes, nor more or less in the way it is happening in life usually. They were thorn away, abruptly and gruesomely, by those who loved or obeyed the evil. They had to live somehow and somewhere, those thorn away souls. Each of them had its own destined time to be in someone’s body.
I also met and still am meeting so many people who each has the Holocaust story to tell, the survivors, their children and grandchildren. And every single of those stories I have heard is ought to be written and remembered. Each of them is unique, extraordinary and magnetic. Because each of them is about human spirit. Each of them is breathing life, even in death.
So I found myself in that cattle wagon in Chicago. It was as dark inside, as one can imagine the darkness in one child’s fears. But it was more than dark. The blackness inside the wagon was the entire world. It was the air, the home, the dream, the day and the night. It was the only thing existing. And I was yet sparred from non-stops screams around me in the overcrowded wagon, from smells, from suffocation. I was sparred from a total sweeping despair, my own, atop of everyone’s around me. But staying in that cattle wagon of the Deutsche Bahn with the time rapidly running back, so I could hear its beat more loudly than my own heart’s jumping, I remembered very vividly the words of the Viktor Frankl’s account of him and people around him taken in the similar wagon on their way to Auschwitz, and how much did he struggled to get a chance to have a momentarily glance from that small window with nasty metal bars over it, towards his city disappearing in the view with no time at all…
When I stepped out the wagon, I felt that my understanding of how my fellow Jewish people and all the other victims of the Nazi feast of evil were feeling at the time of that massive attack against humanity, was almost completed. I knew no time distance from the events in mid-1940 any longer. It all was happening now.