It felt invasive and pervasive. Something deep inside, at the cellular level. The memory of the blue pellets infusing me with a sense of being poisoned and not being able to breathe.
The image is paused, like in a bad Wifi connection. The image of dying in agony. Jews, my family members gasping for air, looking for air. Nails scratching the walls. And the unbearable picture remains, stubbornly triggered time after time.
Unfathomable, undisgestable image. Nested deep in my soul, a pain in the deepest roots of my being.
I breathe Zyklon B.
Again and again.
A few months old, growing up in the Paris apartment from which my father was arrested with his family, I start gasping for air. After 3 surgeries by the age of 3, and numerous traumatic stays in sanatoriums, things do not get better.
Learning to dive in my 20s is a useful exercise in learning to breathe. I tremble with all my body and hold on to the instructor’s hand for dear life.
Much later, in my 50s, a tonsil creatively grows on the back of my tongue and makes my swallowing difficult. I choose to have surgery in Paris, and visit my childhood apartment while convalescing. My feet lead me naturally to the first floor landing of passage Courtois, 2. The new owner of this somber place tells me: “I will not let you in” …. And as I remain silent, after sharing with him that this apartment was the theatre of a terrible drama for its previous occupants. He says: “nothing is going to bring them back”. How does he know the story?
I cannot believe what I am hearing and I hold onto my friend standing in support next to me.
Did he breathe the smells of Zyklon B? How did they affect him?
I understand he has his images of the Shoah. And they are as indigestible as mine.
We all breathed Zyklon B.
The deadly vapors penetrated time and space. Generation after generation.
The victims, the observers, and the perpetrators.
I am writing those words and my throat has become dry and painful.
Maybe feeling the pain inside my body can help me find the way out. When the pain will subside, will I know if things are ok?
The words of Bryan Stevenson resonate: “we cannot recover from this history until we deal with it”.
How to deal with Zyklon B?
What do we need to understand, what is needed to heal, what is the way forward? What would have helped me along the way?
And what has actually helped me?
The healing of mine and my family’s trauma wounds.
Going deep inside my body, revealing the memories buried in unknown corners. Slowly making peace.
Making space for the collective pain through rituals reinventing grieving for missing bodies and memories.
Re-membering and honoring loved ones.
Connecting with the eyes of German friends and strangers on the way. Telling our stories and sharing the pain. Acknowledging that beyond the terms genocide and crimes against humanity, there is a wound. Humanity itself is wounded.
And perhaps finding the way to heal the wounds of humanity is both the message and the best way to honor the dead. Humanity. Our humanity. Individual and collective.
To begin with, let the pain out. Acknowledge it, give it space. Be aware it simply exists in our midst, and our common space. Deal with it.
Let the energy move, the still pictures slowly will be replaced.
I hear the new words of the current owner of my childhood apartment:
” I know, it hurts.”
I decided to dedicate my life to healing trauma and researching new healing modalities becauseI know how much growth and resilience we can experience when the pictures move on. We can decide to expel Zyklon B, to exhale it together. As opposed to being in Zyklon B apnea.