The Black Photo Album

My family owns a little black book: an album of pictures that my grandfather took while fighting in WWII. There are a lot of photos that you would expect of young soldiers in a foreign country: men relaxing in the sun, playing cards, writing letters, and smoking. There are pictures of the landscape, things that he knew he most likely wouldn’t see again. One photo is of a friend my grandpa’s, a fellow soldier with his arms around three women. The caption reads that all three women were pregnant by that man at the same time. The women look happy and the soldier? Well, he has a very proud look in his twinkling eyes. I always laughed at that one.

Then the book takes a dramatic turn.

Photo after photo of horror and destruction and death. Piles of dead men and women, bony and stiff, heads shaved, eyes open in haunting terror. My grandfather was part of a wave of soldiers that swept through Auschwitz once it was liberated. He would never talk about that time except to say, “They were so hungry and we could only feed them a little at a time so that we didn’t make them sick.”

He would shake his head while he swiped at his nose; his eyes fixed on a distant memory that he could never, never forget. “Man, that was tough, that was tough.” We knew better than to ask more questions.

I did dare to ask him once why he took the pictures. “No one here (America) believed that this was happening; that there were camps where people were starved and worked and tortured to death. No one believed us. I had to show them that it was true.”

Since the time that I first saw this album, I have been hesitantly, respectfully, cautiously intrigued by the Holocaust. I want to know their stories, hear their voices, feel the ache of what they went through. I cautiously seek out stories that will tell me more of that time. So that they will not be forgotten. So that I can connect with my grandpa, The Great Mr. Davis, and see what he had to witness at such a young age. In some small, insignificant way, I want to help carry the burden with them, though I know it’s not realistic that reading a book could do that. But their voices need to be heard. We must not forget what happened to them. As hard as it is to hear, I will listen to them.

A book that I read this week, The Butterfly and the Violin, while fictional, opened my eyes to more facts about the Holocaust. About Auschwitz.

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I read The Butterfly and the Violin in about two days. I devoured and completely adored this book. I haven’t done that in a long time. It’s real and expressive and stunning and beautiful. The plots, the characters, all of it spoke to my soul and I was not ready when it was over.

Two other books that I read often to never forget the stories not only of those that suffered simply because they were Jewish, but also of those brave enough to risk their lives to protect and hide those that needed it most:
The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom
Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies (the woman who helped those in the Secret Annex and found Anne’s diary after the attic was raided)

This is a very random post I realize, and I don’t have time to say all that I want to. But I thought I better tell you about it.
Until next time, friends.

B.D. Riehl is the author of The Earth is Full and The Heavens Are Telling, both available on Amazon.
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