Concentration Camps

Menachem was a kind, modest and soft-spoken man. A man who had experienced great pain and suffering in his life. A man who lost most of his family in the concentration camps during the holocaust. He was a Polish Jew and almost 80 years old when I first met him. He had fled Europe after the Second World War, crossing to Israel by boat. He arrived in Haifa in 1948 and then, finally settled in a kibbutz in Northern Israel.

Many years later I also sailed into Haifa and spent almost 18 months of my life in Israel. When I arrived at Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, Menachem was the postmaster there. Once or twice a week, I would drop by to buy stamps and leave my letters with him. Over time we got to know each other – exchanging stories or telling jokes. He was curious as to why an Irishman would choose to go to Israel and I was enthralled but also horrified by his accounts of what happened to his family in the concentration camps.

Menachem is dead now. But the stories he told are still alive with me today. He shared his experiences almost matter-of-factly. He hardly ever became emotional, in spite of all that had happened. One day during one of our discussions, he suddenly stopped talking. His face darkened and tears welled up in his eyes . He told me that his biggest fear was that people would forget what had happened. He feared that as the years passed, new generations would repeat the very same mistakes.

I thought of Menachem many times after I finally left Israel and returned to my life in Europe. I promised myself that someday I would visit these concentration camps to see for myself. I wanted to show Menachem that I had not forgotten what we had shared. And I suppose I also wanted to show Menachem that I had not forgotten him . . .