Yom Hashoah, the Day of the Holocaust

“Dos ramas, dos destinos” /By Claudia Prengler Starosta

In 2005, Claudia Prengler Starosta found out, through Facebook, about the
existence of a branch of the family that she did not know: its members were
survivors of the Holocaust in Poland and by then they lived in Texas, CA

Having crossed the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where at the top you can read Arbeit Macht Frei, “Work will make you free”, transported me to the tragic reality of a past. Having witnessed the spaces and breathed the icy air of that concentration and extermination camp made me perceive live what happened there.

I wanted to get to that place too, in some way, connect with those men, women, and children who, just because they were Jews, went through that disastrous stage of history, staying there
only the ashes of the vast majority.

Even though we were in a group, we each felt in our shells themselves. At times the image of the faces of relatives who did not survive came to me, but there were some rescued photos that our grandparents would have shown us.

We crossed on foot the tracks where the freight trains full of human beings arrived, crammed for several days and without water or food. My feet carried me slowly, almost lethargically, along the train tracks. I walked under a gray sky while a fine rain-wet me little by little.

We entered the gloomy barracks and ran into the wooden cots, where when one wanted to turn around in such a small space, the rest of the occupants had to do too. I tried to imagine lying there with a shaved head, getting cold inside that worn and lice-infested cloth they were given to cover themselves. I looked away so that the image would fade and, as best I could, I went outside to get some fresh air.

I continued walking with the part of the group that went ahead. I immediately noticed the watchtowers to my left, erect and menacing despite being now empty. In one of them, I imagined the silhouette of a soldier stationed with a machine gun in hand, in case someone tried to throw himself against the barbed wires to end his agony once and for all.

We continued at a slow pace, almost lethargic until it was time to enter the gas chamber. We did it slowly and in absolute silence. Having been standing there, motionless, inside that sepia-colored humid square, where in just minutes a large number of people ceased to live, had me nailed to the ground. And I was there, staring at the ceiling where the flat heads of some “innocent” looking showers poked out.

The ceiling dyed a bright green scattered in sporadic patches, now witnesses in time of the traces left by the murderous gas. Yes, those small crystals of Zyklon B, the pesticide that the Nazi specialist carefully dropped in the precise place, and once inside the hermetic chamber became the toxic gas.

Having felt my own eye resting on the cold metal, barely touching the thick piece of glass through which the SS was observing their “work”. While they were calculating the exact minutes that everything would end, it left him breathless for a few moments. It brought back to me the image of those human beings stretching their arms upwards in desperation to lift up the little ones. I felt part of them, trembling between the naked bodies, and I saw myself curled upbringing both hands to my face, breathing my own air until my last breath.

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