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Stephen Muss (Miami)

Never again should we let the world threaten us.

My grandfather, Shlomo (Seymour) Malek and his family were sent to Auschwitz from their shtetl of Borsa on the day after Pesach in May of 1944. They were trained down to Auschwitz, where my grandfather was sent to the right along with his brother and father. He was 17 years old in 1944 and was put to work in stacking bodies in narrow, deep pits. His job was to make it seem like the Nazis weren’t killing as many, by stacking the bodies this way, airplanes flying over from above couldn’t see how deep the pits went. This job was extremely difficult and was so hard that many of the Kommandos were too tired and broken down that they just couldn’t climb back up. One fateful night, my grandfather had reached that same level of sheer exhaustion. Try and try as hard as he could, he was unable to get himself up. That is until he saw a hand reaching down to pull him up, he grabbed on and was saved. When he got over, he searched for his savior, but he was nowhere to be found. This event reaffirmed his faith in G-d and kept him sane and religious throughout his life. After 17 months in the camp, he was liberated and sent to a displaced person camp in France. After 3 years there, he finally immigrated to the United States. In 1961, my grandfather went to the freshly independent state of Israel to visit his father and brother who had also survived. There he met his wife-to-be and moved together to New York City. He was given two children, my mother, Sandra, and my uncle, Michel. On November 16, 2003, I was born. At this point, my grandfather was already in the hospital for a major stroke he recently had. 8 days later, I was to be named David Assouline at noon for my Brit Milah.

My grandfather, however, had different plans. He always wanted a grandson to be named after him, therefore he chose to pass away at 9 am. He was buried just a few hours later after my Brit Milah to a much smaller, much less jubilant crowd than before. It was then that I was given my birthright, the name of the world’s kindest, best man. I was named Shlomo David Assouline, in his honor. Even after witnessing the worst of worst experiences, he kept his head up high, and always laughed, smiled, and had a permanent twinkle in his eye, that I know about from the pictures I have of him. My connection to the Holocaust through him, kept me grounded and connected to what I saw.

When I arrived at Birkenau, a full 75 years after he did, I was stunned to see one of the most beautiful sights ever. It was like the Devil cloaked in an angel’s outfit. Birkenau was an extraordinarily majestic sight. It was also massive. The immensity of Birkenau made it so hard for me to connect to the fact that I was walking the same ground that my grandfather worked and that my relatives were murdered. To be honest, I was so overwhelmed by the size that I felt that I was just walking in a park. There were only very few memoirs of its torturous past. The latrines, cattle car, tracks, barbed wire, guard towers, and destroyed crematorium are all that’s left. In a different world, it could have been a campground. The literal only place in all of Birkenau that I felt sharp emotion that wasn’t anger at the hyper-casual people and disrespectful teenagers was when I told the story of my grandfather at a pit that he may have worked in. But even then, I didn’t feel much.

A few minutes after we left the pond area, I felt so free. I felt that I had done justice in sharing his story with my class. I was almost giddy after it. Ultimately, the Poland trip wasn’t all that bad, as there were a lot of good things that I neglected to mention so as not to make this essay double the length it currently is. It made a lot of my friendships a lot stronger, a lot more experienced and matured. It made me understand my feelings a lot better. It made me come to terms with so many of my fears. I’m glad that I went on this trip and especially glad that we spent another two days in Krakow to wash out the bad taste. I wouldn’t be opposed to going again, just not for another few years. May we all remember the 6,000,000 Jews who were murdered for now and forever. Never again should we let the world threaten us.