31 October 2011

Stacks of paper

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."

There were at least twenty to twenty-five names on each page and a box full of pages. We were making piles of the names we were going to read aloud over the course of the retreat.

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.

There's a reason why people don't come to places like this. Whatever you do, you have it ground into your face, into your gut, into your bones, again and again, that it can never be enough. There is no matching this horror with anything "appropriate."

I sat down in that big empty hall filled with chairs and couldn't even cry.


  1. Reading of the names of people who died is the most important and powerful part of the retreat for me. We have been doing this retreat for 17 years and we still have so many names to read - PEOPLE TO REMEMBER. Thanks for sharing this amazing process. ginni

  2. Ginni: Do you read different names at every retreat so that you are working on reading all the names of the people who died at the Auschwitz camps over time?


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