A Girl Called Estherke
Dedicated in memory of Moritz Gertler and to all the victims and survivors of the Holocaust – 15 April 1945 – by the Gertler and Trink families.
It was the new month of Sivan, 5704, Spring 1944. Ida, her father, mother, brothers, and sisters were ordered to the train station with the rest of the Jewish community of their Czechoslovakian town. Jews had lived there for generations, but their history was all coming to an abrupt end with a single train ride to Auschwitz. The cattle cars were sealed. More than 80 people were squeezed into a single wagon. Ida and her family managed to stay together, and they comforted each other amidst the choking heat, filth, and fear of the unknown. “Papa, where are they taking us?” Ida asked. “My children, once there was an altar on Mount Moriah in the holy city of Jerusalem. God commanded a father to take his only, beloved son and sacrifice him upon that altar, in order to test his faith in God. As the father was about to fulfil God’s command and lifted the knife, the Lord God spoke to Abraham and said, ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad.’” “Today, my children, there is another huge altar, not on a sacred mountain but in a profane valley of death. There, man is testing his own inhumanity toward his fellow man. The children of Abraham are again a burnt offering, this time by the command of men. But man, unlike God, will not stop the knife. On the contrary, he will sharpen it and fan the altar flames so that they may totally consume their sacrifice. A man-made fire, a knife held by man, must be stopped by man, by a human voice, a human hand. My children, be human in this inhuman valley of death. May the merit of our father Abraham protect you, for whoever saves one Jewish soul, it is as if he saves an entire universe.” On the eve of the holiday of Shavuot, Ida and her family arrived in Auschwitz. The skies above Auschwitz were red. Ida’s father spoke as if to himself: “On this day, millenniums ago, God came down to man in fire and smoke and gave his commandments. Today, man is commanding in fire and smoke, ‘Thou shalt kill!’”