When people die, the testimony of their life is usually the family they founded, the surviving spouse, the children and grandchildren. And if this did not happen in their lives, it may be the results of their work; maybe they were researchers, scientists or artists; remaining witnesses of their former existence. But even those men or women who lived a quiet and secluded life and are therefore referred to as “ordinary people”, leave their names to the world on a grave stone.
There are cemeteries in the world where we discover unknowm people, reading their names as passing by. And although the names are foreign to us and the life of the man or woman behind the name also, their tombs can tell us some of their life story. When and where they were born; if they died young or very old; is it an opulent or rather a simple grave; a man lies alone or he is surrounded by those with whom he has shared his life? Is the grave in good condition or is it weathered? What material is it: marble, granite or a simple stone on which is just written a name. Nothing more. Do fresh flowers witness the fact that there are still survivors who have not forgotten the dead or is the grave covered with bare stones. Is there solid moss or are few stones there? Does the grave look sad, joyful, heavy or light. When light falls on it does the gravel in front of the grave look like a frequently used path or is it untouched for years?
A grave can tell multiple stories at the same time. A place of mourning, a place to let go, but also a place of refuge, of contemplation and dialogue. A place of help to recharge your batteries, the deep loneliness but also strong loyalty. Whatever a mourner needs – it may be the grave, where he receives it and can therefore continue to live.
There are people who laugh at graves, others cry, are quiet and silent, talking to themselves, pray, some curse and complain about their fate and insult the dead, who have left them alone. But all have one thing in common – they all have a place where they can do all this: the grave.
Sometimes only names of people remain. No grave, not even less than just “no grave”. They have lived the way people live and are then robbed of their lives. Worse than their abrupt, unjust death is the total destruction of their existence after their death: shot, gassed, tortured to death, starved to death, died of thirst, frozen – previously tortured, humiliated and reduced to a number, an object, a nameless and undignified thing. Somewhere buried in forests or scattered as ashes in the sand. The actual dehumanization takes place if the existence after death is stolen and nothing is allowed to remain, what reminds of him – and if it were only a grave with his name. And whether this grave was weathered, build with granite and beautiful flowers or the tomb would only be closed by a slab of stone. It doesn´t matter. The place is important, where survivors can mourn or a stranger can stop by and read the name on the grave stone. It is the place that recalls the existence of the human – even if the deceased is no longer there.
Behind a number
Six million Jews – what a number. Six million people who have not received a grave stone. They are just gone. Among them, there are thousands and thousands of families that have been destroyed. No one survived: father, mother, children, plus grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces – all have been killed. No one can testify anymore, but there is also no one anymore who still asks for the testimony: How has Papa loved to eat his breakfast? Had his son flat feet and who was actually the best friend of the mother? How was Grandpa dressed for Shabbat and what kind of embroidery Grandma preferred? Where have all the family stories gone? Who carries them from generation to generation?
And what about those who survived? To which places could and can they go? Where can they grieve, cry, laugh and be angry. Where can they bid somebody a last farewell?
Where have all the names gone, where are the last witnesses of their existence?