In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, here is an excerpt from the story of Ovadya ben Malka. “Here is one task for you to do,” Rav Ish-Shalom told him. “You must remember everything you can about individual people from that place. One cannot keep alive the memory of thousands; it just isn’t possible. Instead, call to mind individuals. Their lives, not their deaths. You must remember everything you can about them; how they were dressed, what they said to one another; any names that you heard spoken. Anything!” In this excerpt, Ovadya finally begins to overcome the barrier to telling what he witnessed.
Ovadya ben Malka's writings on the shoah and memory
A poem in honor of Yom HaShoah 5779. A Sonderkommando’s memories and the role of the living.
When does survival become a crime? What is the nature of Evil? Where was God during the Holocaust? What are the limits of human responsibility in the face of overwhelming coercion? These are just some of the question faced by Jews—particularly religious Jews—during the Shoah. This guide explores these questions and more through a series of dialogues between Ovadya ben Malka, a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando and the rabbi to whom he turned for judgment.
Some things should continue to awaken our sense of outrage, because not to be outraged is to cease to be human. We should not surrender our humanity without a fight, even if we know we will lose that fight in the end.
Teshuvah is, among other things, a process of reaching closure and healing. In wronging another, we dealt a blow to our relationships—our connection to ourselves, to our community or society, and to our relationship with God. Reaching closure means healing these wounds. But what if we can’t ask for forgiveness because those we wronged are no longer alive?
“Not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before the Eternal our God, and with those who are not here with us, this day.” Every generation is the Jewish people. And every generation must choose life or death: do we pass on our traditions to our children or do we let the Jewish people die with us?
When does survival become a crime? When does choice become treason? And what choice do we have when all choices are wrong? These are the questions faced by the Sonderkommando—the Jews who were forced to burn the bodies of the dead.
A tribute to Zalman Gradowski and others among the Birkenau Sonderkommando who worked to get word out of what was happening in Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Ovadya ben Malka, a former member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando has approached Rabbi Ish-Shalom in search of atonement and absolution. Instead, the rabbi has told him that no atonement is possible; he must tell all that he remembers and pay his debt to the dead. In this excerpt, Ovadya finally breaches the silence that has engulfed him since Birkenau.
Returning explores the questions faced by the Jewish Sonderkommando in Birkenau. When does death becomes a moral obligation? What is the nature of responsibility when all choices are taken from us? Can we do T’shuvah for acts committed under coercion? These are the questions that Ovadya still wrestles with decades later.