Rabbi, the view from this hospital window is heaven: all the green of Eretz Yisrael is before me, and I have lived to see it.
And you, a good man, have come to cheer my failing heart, before it stops.
How many Survivors are in this country?
How many are silent, ashamed of their experience? I have never spoken of it, personally.
When the Americans liberated us, they wanted to kill the guards. But they couldn't: their commander forbid it. They gave us, who could stand and walk, their rifles. No news cameras rolled. Into the hills, inmates chased camp guards, and you heard gunfire like firecrackers. I asked a sergeant for his gun, in German. I pantomimed for it, pointed outside the camp. He nodded, put in a full clip. He started to pat me on the back, then stopped. Lice.
I hurried out the camp gates. A forest surrounded us. I found a guard hiding behind a tree and I told him to come out as my rifle trained on his head.
Do you have cigarettes? I asked him. Throw them to me, and your lighter. Sit down, I said.Artwork by Amanda Shafran.
The lighter had an SS insignia, in enamel. Do you know how I have survived you and your kind? I asked him. He was mute. I wanted everything to be clear. I wasn't trying to prolong his wait, you understand.
I read the Torah, I told him. I found a Lutheran Bible. I tore out the Gospels, and used them to make a fire for my hands. I kept the Five Books Of Moses. I read it every day though it sometimes choked my heart like barbed wire. There's a very strange passage in Exodus. God hunts Moses across the sands in this passage with the clear intent to murder. That portion set me free; it obliterated my loneliness.
Hashem is no stranger to the worst guilt. And I forgave Him. I had acquired the power to do so.
What is your name? I asked.
Gunther, he said.
You use your first name, I said, and fired.
He slumped over.
I was beside myself with hunger. The Americans were setting up a commissary in the camp to feed us, treat us medically.
I walked back through the camp gates. I shared my cigarettes.
Charles Bane, Jr. is a nominee for Poet Laureate of Florida. To learn more about his philosophy and work, read Raffi Leicht's interview in this issue of Altar.
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