In Birkenau our dear hero, Mr. Buchman is a celebrity; everyone notices how special he is. Mr. Buchman walks slowly with a cane. His grandson, Aryeh is standing near him, serving as a support, both emotionally and physically. People here are mostly young. There are multiple groups of Israeli teens. There are groups of Chassidim. There is a small group of women from Flatbush and a fellow from Ponovezh with his family. Everyone is hearing stories of the horrors that transpired in this massive area. Tales are told about the indignity of latrines, the dangers facing a pregnant woman, how a word of warning from a Sonderkommando to a woman, “have the grandmother hold the hand of the child,” saves lives. The mood is somber. The visitors respectful. Then they notice Mr. Buchman with his grandson, walking around the museum of the kingdom of death. They gather around and ask, “Were you here? Are you a survivor? Can you share your story with us?”

I saw this script first play out with the Israeli teens. Their guide quieted the group and told them to gather around. “You now have a unique privilege, זכות נדיר. You can hear from one of the few who are left. Menachem will share with you a few words.” Mr. Buchman told them a bit about himself. He told them that in his town there must have been at least three hundred Jews. Only five returned after the war. “They say six million were killed in the war. How did they get this number? Far more died.” His voice cracks, “We should have known. We said Tehillim when we heard what was being done to the Jews of Poland. We said Tehillim when we heard what was happening to the Jews of Belgium and Holland. Somehow we refused to believe it could happen to us. When they came for us, there was no one left to say Tehillim.” A young teenage Israeli girl steps aside, tears are streaming down her cheeks. The teacher tries to compose herself. She cannot; she is crying too hard. “You remind me of my mother. She was here. She also came to Israel after the war. Stepped off a boat and went into battle.”

“How many children do you have? How many grandchildren?”

“I have two daughters; this is my grandson. Five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.”

“This is your victory.”

“No,” another teacher calls out,

“This is our victory.”

The Israelis gather around to wish Mr. Buchman well.

“May Hashem grant you good health and many more years. Thank you for sharing. May you be strong and enjoy your family.”

They turn to Ron and Aryeh and say,

אתם תשמרו עליו,

“You take care and watch over him,”

Ron and Aryeh respond,

הוא שומר עלינו

“He watches over us.”

Many others come by, they want to hear from Mr. Buchman. They ask him for blessings.

The Israeli teacher said between her sobs,

אתה אדם מקסים,

“You are an amazing person.”

Shabbat Shalom from Poland,

Zev Reichman