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Sunday, February 15, 2009

A discussion I was following on one of the chat boards I belong to triggered the memory of a woman I hadn't thought about in quite some time. The discussion was about whether the Holocaust was real or not. It seems that there is a Catholic Bishop who denies that it ever happened. His reasons and the details of why he is in the news really don't matter, at least not for the purposes of my written meanderings. It makes me rather sad to think that there are people who believe that the entire Holocaust was made up, especially when I think about one of the patients I had when I worked at a nursing home. I can't remember her name, but she is part of a memory that I will likely always have. She wasn't really coherent anymore. She had to have total care. Age had taken away her ability to sit up on her own, feed herself and communicate with those around her. When I first met her, the first thing I noticed was her very straight, snowy white hair. It looked so very lovely for a woman who was bedridden. The second thing I noticed was the bluish line of numbers tattooed on her forearm. It wasn't the first time I had seen somebody with one of these tattoos, but it was the first time I had ever interacted with a survivor of the Holocaust. I was warned that when it was time to perform daily care activities with her, that she got very upset. I was prepared. Or at least I thought I was. She didn't fight, or try to hit me like some of my patients with dementia did. Instead, she trembled and repeated the same phrase over and over. "I will listen. I will listen." She would repeat this as I washed her, turned her in bed, or whatever care I was giving her. I would try to talk gently to her and reassure her that I wasn't going to hurt her and she would say something like "Yes, ma'am" or "okay" or "I'm sorry." She would try to be quiet for a while, but a moment later she was trembling again and repeating "I will listen. I will listen." It broke my heart. I wanted so much for her to know that she was okay and that the horrors that she must have been reliving in her head were a thing of the distant past, that she was safe and that no more harm would come to her. But age can play a nasty trick on the mind. Things that were far in the past can come back so terribly vivid. I will never doubt for a moment that the Holocaust was real. As the last of the survivors are coming to their ends of life, it will be easier and easier for people to blithely say it never happened. The truth is getting harder to find. For me though, I will never forget the pitiful sight of a woman who, more than half a lifetime after the fact, still shrank in submission because memories of life in a concentration camp still played on in her head. It's been seven years and this woman has probably passed on by now. I pray that she knew God and that she finally found the lasting peace that escaped her in her final years.

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