Thursday, February 4, 2010

AN OPEN LETTER TO AUSCHWITZ SURVIVOR ELI TAUB


Dear Mr. Taub,

I know you are dead and this letter will never reach you. You passed away in the summer of 2006. Your daughter, Talia, my dear friend, was marked by your sudden absence.


I could not help but think of you as I roamed the tombstones of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery that winter. I was preparing my Sacred Stones Collection at the time, marking the end of my process with grief. You see, I began painting because someone stole the only baby photos I had when I was in high school and I had no way to show my unborn children and grandchildren what I looked like throughout my lifetime so I began documenting my emotional history for them. In telling this to Talia around 2003 she said, in her thick Israeli accent, "I know what you mean. My father survived the Auschwitz death camp. We lost everything in the Holocaust. My family has no pictures from before 1946. I know how much it hurts to not be able to see the past."

Talia and I held hands through what was the most tumultuous times of our lives, and now we walk beside one another with the inner peace and self-certainty that has been won in this newfound era of our existence.

I asked her about your tattoo number. I asked if she knew what it was. "He had one, but I don't remember what it was." I became a little obsessed with your tattoo number when I returned from Paris. We called Israel and asked your wife what your tattoo number was and she too could not recall it though she slept beside you faithfully for over forty years. It was like the horror of what the tattoo represented had been blocked from their minds, ignored, and thus erased from the caverns of time and history.

"My father," Talia declared one evening after we left schul, "has always had more integrity than any human being I have ever encountered in my entire life."

The horror and indignities you experienced and witnessed were not enough to overcome your humanity. And that is how YOU became the spark that has become the inspiration behind my newest collection Secondary Sources: Stone Narratives of the Holocaust. I knew that all around the world Survivors were dying, taking with them the extraordinary narratives of history. And such personal accounts, if left unrepeated, means that the Holocaust itself could also bear the threat of being erased from the archives of the future. The weight of this thought made my heart crumple like a bawled up sheet paper.

One day she told me your story. That you were a young man in Auschwitz and worked doing labor. That you hurt your knee from always kneeling on the ground and that the wear of your wound became so serious that you could barely walk. You could not work and had a fever. You became so sick and you knew the feeble ones were killed. So death became so real. You spoke to another worker, someone higher up. He had been a doctor before coming to the camp. You and this man were from the same country and had lived in nearby villages. Somehow, the doctor convinced the Nazis to let you rest for two days in the barracks. He said you would be valuable again after resting off the fever. And so you laid in bed knowing death was surely at hand if you did not recover. On the second day, as you tried to break the fever that was inside you, bombs were dropped and everyone that worked in the labor camp you were in was killed in the blast, including the man that saved you and the only reason you survived was because of your wounded knee.

You only told the story once to your children. You did not want to ever look back.

I want to thank you for having the strength to tell your story. And I pledge to remember you and tell your story so that your memory and legacy will live on.

It is not an easy thing to disallow the darkness of humanity from overthrowing one's spirit.

Thank you too, for creating and nurturing a life that has grown to become one of my best friends.

You are triumphant,




Keariene Muizz

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