After dinner, I came early to the first group meeting and the room was empty except for Andrzej Krajewski, the coordinator of the retreat from Poland. He was busy sorting stacks of paper so I asked if he wanted help.
"Yes, take from here," he said, indicating the box next to him filled with stacks of paper, "And please count twenty or twenty-two pages and put them in piles here."
Okay. I started to count, to stack. I assumed I was creating piles of twenty-two copies of the same document. But, as I counted, I started to notice that, no, each page was different. They weren't the same document.
"What are these?"
"These are names of the people who were recorded at the camps, the ones who made it through the first selection and actually worked at the camps before they died. No one knows how many actually died at Auschwitz because many were sent directly to the gas chambers so their names weren't recorded. There is no record of them."
When we were done making all the piles we needed, the box was still full of paper, still full of the names of the people who had died in the Auschwitz camps, many more than the pages we had counted out. Andrzej picked the box up and walked towards the back of the room to put it away for another time. I wanted to grab them from him, to tell him no, not again, we can do it, we can do them all. We have to.
But we couldn't. We couldn't do them all. There were too many for the time we had.
I sat down in that big empty hall filled with chairs and couldn't even cry.