For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I stood in the cool and cluttered pantry of my house. I took a few breaths and thought myself back thirteen years to the first time I visited Amsterdam. Then I took this picture of the doorframe:
What does my dinged up pantry molding have to do with Remembrance?
Richard and I went on a snowy morning. Both of us were so moved by the experience that we couldn’t really speak. When you step behind the bookcase and climb into the Secret Annex to occupy the same space where eight people hid from the Nazis, you can’t help but understand the horror of that time. The floorboards creak. The blacked out windows still let in the sound of the church bell a few blocks away. The walls are covered with magazine pictures of Anne and Margot’s favorite actresses. And on one wall, their father Otto drew lines on the wallpaper to show how much the girls were growing.
Anne grew 13 centimeters while they were hiding.
At the Imperial War Museum in London, I watched raw film footage taken by the British when they liberated the death camps and had to use bulldozers to bury the dead. In Prague, I walked through empty synagogues that have become museums because the Jews who built them are gone. I told the story of one in “Doris and the Dragon.” In Paris, I crept down a flight of cold cement stairs to the river bank where boats were loaded with Jews for deportation. I’ve stood in a cattle car and tried to imagine when it was filled with terrified families. I’ve read the statistics and the history and the memoir, but nothing brought the story of the Holocaust home to me like these narrow pen marks on a wall.
I can hear “6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust” and believe it, but not comprehend it. When I look at those marks climbing the wall and know that Anne was still growing, still becoming who she was meant to be…I understand that because my wall looks the same. We so often try to learn history from the big numbers down, but I learn so much more when I start from the one–the one life.
Every single one of the six million had a life. A mama who reminded them to shush now and then and a papa who marveled as they grew. A first kiss. An annoying sibling. A dream of becoming something in the world. A story to live.