By Abraham H. Miller, Originally published in the New York Observer
“Auschwitz” is synonymous with death, specifically the anonymity of death. Not only did Auschwitz rob people of their lives, it also sought to make their lives meaningless by making their deaths insignificant.
Mass gassing of people, followed by converting their remains to smoke and ash that drifted on the wind like industrial waste, symbolized their insignificance. There weren’t supposed to be any markers of their existence, and if the Nazis had won the war, probably Auschwitz itself would have been plowed under, as if it too never existed.
It had been years since I descended into the dark and depressing literature of the Holocaust, a netherworld that demands a capacity to anesthetize one’s emotions while permitting the various facets of its complex meanings and symbols to penetrate the mind.
I had not thought of the anonymity of death in years, perhaps decades, and then I read about the tragic, wanton murder of eighteen-year-old Ezra Schwartz, an American student filling a gap year in Israel, whose crime, like those of his ancestors, was that he was a Jew.
A Palestinian terrorist pulled up alongside a car he was riding in and discharged an automatic weapon into it. Ezra Schwartz was shot dead.
Mr. Schwartz was a random target of terrorism, killed because he was an object of a long nurtured hatred, and his life was interchangeable with that of any Jew.