The buses to take us to Auschwitz weren't allowed on the streets near our hotel so we met in the lobby and walked to where they were parked. Aside from Gemmon, I knew no one else and, as we made our way along the narrow streets hauling our luggage behind us, it seemed improbable that I would ever know any of them. Most were wearing dark clothing with one splash of color - a scarf, a hat, or an oddly-colored suitcase. The list said about half came from the United States but the rest came from many other countries: from the Netherlands, Israel, Poland, Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary with many from Germany.
Sometimes I wonder if I have an erasable memory. It's the only reasonable explanation for the fact that here I am in middle age having been new in college, in camp, in hobby groups, in different congregations or in various retreats for this project, in parent groups for my children when they were in school, etc. etc. etc. yet I still forget that this beginning phase is so brief. When I'm in it, it feels permanent, like it's the definition of my life, like I will always be moving through a city I don't know, feeling invisible, with people I can only describe as a group.
Walking down the streets in this many people, each with our belongings, it was impossible not to think of the masses of people driven from their homes, hauling children and heavy leather suitcases, who were jammed into trucks and trains without enough space or food or water, and the terror, helplessness, and rage they must have felt. And, sometimes, the days they were taken away were probably this beautiful....
On the bus, headed towards Oświęcim , the town where Auschwitz is, sunlit yellows and greens out the window and, inside, a bus full of amiable people chatting and getting to know each other, one of the retreat leaders, a young woman from Poland, finally took the microphone and said, "Auschwitz is a great teacher. We will go the rest of the way in silence."