In about 1996 I went to Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem.
I queued for a ticket, and in front of me there was a young couple. Neither was Jewish but from the conversation I made out that the young woman’s father or maybe her grandfather was one of the righteous gentiles who had helped Jews during the war.
Apparently he was commemorated in the museum and the woman in the booth explained to the young woman where she should go to find the records.
While I was waiting, I saw a postcard on the shelf in the booth. It was a photograph of an installation built into a hillside in the grounds of the museum. It was few railway boxcars on a piece of track leading up into the sky.
When it was my turn to buy a ticket, I asked about the railway cars and the track and the woman in the booth explained that the railway cars had been ‘rescued’ and brought to the museum and that yes, those very cars had been used to transport Jews to the death camps during the war.
I said that the image was terrible, and the woman said with a sympathetic tone said ‘Yes, this is Yad Vashem.’
I felt a wave of sympathy; it was so sad.
I walked on towards the buildings and started to walk along a path between rows of trees planted to commemorate the righteous gentiles who had helped Jews during the war.
I suddenly had an image in my mind of a thin woman with a headscarf standing near an old stove and holding a frying pan and I saw in my mind’s eye German soldiers marching in shiny uniforms.
I had been to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam years before and I had touched the frying pan on the stove in their hiding place – or perhaps it on the floor below. I imagined that Anne had touched it, although perhaps it was just a frying pan brought in to put on the stove for visitors to the museum to see.
And on TV programmes like The World At War, I had seen German soldiers marching,
But the woman holding the frying pan that I saw in my mind’s eye as I stood in the sun at Yad Vashem – I didn’t know who she was – only that I was connected to her.
What happened next was that I reeled and almost fell against a large rock and I wailed.
I felt my insides opening up and I wailed. I didn’t cry – I opened like a dam. I said, almost shouted, complained – into the air – ‘They killed them all: They murdered them all.’
Even as I was wailing, I thought it must be all too common for people to break down in Yad Vashem. I realised that I didn’t care whether I was making a scene, or causing some kind of embarrassment in pubic. I just didn’t care. I was not crying. There was nothing in me that was intentionally pushing out or letting out the wailing – it just came out of me.
I was truly wailing.
It was a revelation to me.
I felt that I didn’t know myself. Where had that wail come from?
It made no sense – I wasn’t even born then when it all happened.