My Brother Jack … And The Smile That Survived Auschwitz

Wading senseless through the swamp of murders at Auschwitz and Birkenau. All heads bowed. All quiet. 

What happened to Jack’s older brother, I wonder? He was perhaps fourteen or fifteen when Jack was sent to Auschwitz. Would he also have survived had he been selected to join his brother Jack? Did he too have Jack’s winning smile? 

Out, out, damned questions! These are questions without answers.

Before he left for Auschwitz, Jack’s father told him to stay quiet and not trust anyone. He was just twelve years old, brimming with life and joy. “Did you have any friends Jack?”, someone asked. “No, there was no such thing as a friend at Auschwitz”, he replied. “All you did back then is think about survival.” 

Hard to imagine. Jack, a boy, so friendly and so friendless. 

Did his father have time to kiss him goodbye, I wonder?  Did he at least remember to say: “I love you son” ?

Out, out, damned questions! These are questions without answers.

A flash of memory intrudes unbidden. I recall a service where a young boy spoke at his father’s funeral. After the eulogies had been delivered, the boy stood up and simply said in a heartbroken tone: “He was so nice.” I cried then. 

Now Jack is showing us a photo taken of him at Auschwitz by the American soldier who liberated him. “Some people try to say I wasn’t there, but I know I was. I have the photo to prove it.” You are proof enough, Jack.

We have seen and we have heard and we too shall bear witness.

“Never, never forget me”, Jack exhorts us in his parting speech (as if we ever could). Then comes that impossible, indomitable smile. How did that smile ever survive Auschwitz?

I suddenly feel the “thing with feathers” perch within my soul. And just as Emily Dickinson foresaw, “it sings the tune without the words and never stops – at all.”

How we need any least sign that our dark age can break, our winter pass!

I smile back at Jack… and I’m fairly sure that my hands join in the applause too. But the eyes are always more honest, and mine requite a tear or two. And so I whisper softly: “I will be your brother, Jack, and you must be mine. Together we are joined as brothers in arms.”