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  • I spent the last week in other people's memories. To be precise, in remembrances of the worst deprivations of the Holocaust and World War II.

    I am back home now trying to do things like grade essays and wash dishes and I suddenly remember Anita as she was when I saw her in the synagogue last week, her hands raised above her head. She is no longer a sharply dressed 80-year-old. She has been transformed by memory into the young Czechoslovakian girl whose parents were murdered when she was a child, and who stood naked before Dr, Mengele twice. She looked up, away from us, at the empty space between her hands.

    ...and when one bomb fell right among us, everything flew instantly up into the sky...

    Here, Anita's hands spread and jutted higher.

    ...and hung there for a moment. Men. Trees. Dirt. Pieces of machinery. Shovels. Pieces of us, the prisoners working in the forest. And then it all fell, and I was covered with the dirt. And I was thinking to myself, this is it. This is my last day. And I am 14.

    Alan, a liberator in Patton's army (Patton? What a general, I tell you. Brilliant military man. But as a human? A person? Boy oh boy, that's a different story!) was more graphic. Deliberately. He looked at us, a select group nestled in comfortable chairs near the large windows of the synagogue on a radiant spring day, and he seemed to deliberately thrust himself backwards in time, 65 years. His focus was diffused, and while one hand gripped the podium, the other was left free to pound it emphatically.

    Alan recalled the deaths of his best friends. He recalled, relived, and illuminated. He wanted us to see what he saw.

    He saw a bomb crater and dirt and chaos.

    ...and something hit me on the back of the head, something heavy, like this... and I went to lift it up, and it was a arm. I was holding it, and I was shaking... and I saw the eagle tattooed on the wrist...

    "Willy! Willy!! Willy!!

    Here, Alan stared down, his blue, decorated cap pointing sharply at the floor, while he drove the palm of his right hand repeatedly into the podium. Eventually, he looked up at us and continued his story. The other friends he lost. Encountering the skeletal prisoners at Gunskirchen lager. Wandering the ruined cities of Germany and Austria after the war, trying to forget what he had seen.

    And after Anita and Alan, I traveled to Washington where I spoke with David, and then on to Manhattan where I met Sami. Before them, I have spoken with Manya, Regina, Susan, Sonja, Aranka, Bill...

    Now, sometimes the stories of Holocaust survivors arise accidentally when I try to call on my own memories. Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between someone else's memories and my own. Wasn't it me hiding in the haystacks, eastern Ukraine, fall of 1942, while the villagers speared them with pitchforks, looking for the children hiding there? Or was it my daughter they were looking for?

    My daughter dozes fitfully on my lap while I type. Her wrists are thin and smooth, and her hair smells like the cherry blossoms that won't bloom in Vermont for another 6 weeks.
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