Volume 17, Number 47 | April 15 — 21, 2005

The Penny Post

On the road in Jerusalem

By Andrei Codrescu
Jerusalem, city of stone. You’ve sure been hard on my bones, every one of which hurts. Everything hurts in God’s city, so my tiny suffering doesn’t add up to much. When you enter the narrowing pyramidal new building designed by Moshe Safdie at the Yad Vashem museum, you first see pretty girls smiling, families having picnics, vacationing groups waving at the cameras, children sitting around a Torah teacher in some provincial eastern European town, men going to work — and then you see them instantly vanishing, poof, as if they never were. Once upon a time. It was as if it never was. Only this “once upon a time” wasn’t so long ago and these people in the moving pictures look like people I know, people of my mother’s generation: my aunts, my uncles, my parents’ friends. My mother has many pictures like these of our relatives and of her young friends. After the smiling people in the pictures vanish, you can see where they went, their corpses stacked like cords of wood in frozen trenches while laughing German boys stand smoking over their bodies. You see their clothes and their shoes, carefully weighed and saved, because those things mattered to the Nazis. The people, their bodies, their minds, that was just dirt to the Nazis. Their clothes were worth something. And then you see the meticulous lists that German bureaucrats kept of all that they had done. I see Romania, the country where I was born, and next to it the number 200,000 or Two Hundred Thousand. That’s how many Jews were killed in Romania alone. In Russia and Hungary the Nazis did much better: there the numbers are in the millions. In some cities, the record proudly says it all: “Judenfrei.” Jew—free. All the Jews, including children, were murdered there. The good sausage—chomping burghers of the Reich lands can go about their business without fear of Jews offending their sight. And then you see the men who thought up this monstrosity: Hitler, Himmler, the ministers of Germany. You see the ones that were caught, sitting with arrogant smirks on their faces at the Nuremberg trials as they are shown pictures of still breathing 35—pound skeletons curled up on their concentration camp bunks. The Allied soldiers who liberated the camps took these pictures: only four or five years have passed since these vaguely human figures were going on picnics, smiling, waving at the camera, being good children learning the Bible. A massive black stone covers a handful of ashes from every Nazi camp, its name carved starkly in stone: Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maidanek, Baby Yar… When you come out of Yad Vashem into the bright light of Jerusalem, you can look all you want at the cloudless sky. There is nothing written on it. I walked up Via Dolorosa following the two first steps of the Cross: the Flagellation and the Ecce Homo arch. I was already breathing hard from the exertion. I couldn’t imagine carrying a cross on my back. I veered off toward the Al Aksa Mosque at the Dome of the Rock and two soldiers barred my path. This house of God was closed. Something was in the air, but in Jerusalem there is always something in the air. I believe that it’s the ongoing perfection of suffering by a mean and lazy God. Mean you can easily see why, but lazy also because He never left home, and now all His children fight over the bit of real estate he left them. The only person emanating happiness in Jerusalem is the very beautiful waitress in the café where I’m having a grapefruit and an espresso. She tells me that this café is new, it stands on the site of another where a suicide bomber killed 17 people. There is a sign outside listing the people who died. I take a picture of it with my digital camera. It isn’t much, but there it is.


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