Memorial Day 2015

Today I want to thank the soldiers who saved my life. Because you saved my father’s life, and therefore made it possible for me to be born. Maybe you fought for freedom and democracy, or because your own father fought before you were born, or because you wanted an adventure or to get away from home, maybe you fought because you knew in some abstract way that it was the right thing to do. Maybe you had a friend who was Jewish, or you didn’t even know a single Jew but you believed in the human dignity of everyone, or maybe you were Jewish yourself. Maybe you wanted to be a hero, or were trying something, anything, to get past your fears, maybe you just signed up on a whim or dropped out of school to enlist because that’s what your buddies were doing. Maybe you don’t even remember why you were going, maybe you just went.

Many times I’ve thanked you in my mind, but today I want to thank you out loud, the way I tried to when I met a few of you last month, in a place far away, a place that we both did and didn’t know too much about, called Weimar, Germany, at a gathering for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, the concentration camp located just 8 km outside of town. You were there for the anniversary because you had been part of Patton’s Third Army entering the gate marked JEDEM DAS SEINE, To Each His Due. I was there, with my father, because he was one of the prisoners on the inside of that gate, a sixteen-year-old boy with a shaved head and wide dark eyes.

I know what he looked like because I’ve seen that face on the prisoner file card he managed to find in the days just after liberation. I know he was sick and emaciated and ravenous and hopeful, and I still find it hard to believe he had the presence of mind (or something?) to go into the camp office and find that card. But I know that he did it, and I know he was hopeful because I’ve asked him how he got through each and every day of his imprisonment, and he answered, “It was so horrible that I had to believe it could only get better.” And the day you arrived, it finally and permanently got better. You arrived with your uniforms so unlike the uniforms of the SS, with your guns not trained on him and his fellow prisoners but aimed at the guards, with your strange American voices and your army rations (which some prisoners ate so quickly they were killed by the food itself). With your empathy and your own young wide-eyed faces. You arrived the way the rumors in the previous days had promised you would, and the SS fled into the forest (the Beech Forest, those American words sounding so different than the German word, Buchenwald). You arrived and the gate was opened and it would never be closed again.

Thank you.

About Elizabeth Rosner

Prize-winning author of novels ELECTRIC CITY, THE SPEED OF LIGHT, and BLUE NUDE. New poetry GRAVITY.
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10 Responses to Memorial Day 2015

  1. Ilana Debare says:

    Beautiful message. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Vanya Bostroem says:

    thank you Liz, for posting this. Skeptical at first, my attitude was quickly transformed by the heart ache of what you were talking about. As a child born i n occupied Paris, I have more than an incling of the madness of those times. In peace and love, Vanya

  3. I am so moved by your Memorial Day Post, Elizabeth. Thank you for touching our hearts with your writing. I loved “The Speed of Wlight” and am now reading “Electric City” which is excellent. I look forward tonseeingband speaking with you again in San Miguel next year.

  4. Diane Fairben says:

    My dad was one of the soldiers in Pattons 3rd army who liberated Buchenwald. He took a few photos, so his children would never forget, or doubt these things were true. I have never forgotten. God bless you, and your dad.

    Diane

    • Thank you, Diane, for this note. I’m touched by the connection we share, and can’t help wondering about the photos. Do you have them in digital format by any chance? It would be amazing to see them…

      blessings back to you,
      E.

  5. Will Ravenel says:

    My dad was the Asst. G-4 of Patton’s General Staff and made the trip to Buchenwald on the first full day of its liberation. It was an occasion he rarely mentioned. The experience of witnessing so much human misery was simply too overwhelming. I’m pleased that y’all were able to attend the anniversary of the camp’s liberation. Your father is amazing.

    • Belated thanks for this note, Will. That is such a powerful experience for you to “inherit,” even if your father rarely spoke about it. I appreciate your sharing these words here.

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