June 22, 2016. I stand here in this place of horror and pain and feel nothing. All traces of what happened here for those 17 months is gone. It feels empty, antiseptic. Bees are everywhere, buzzing with the sound of death. It’s in the air. It’s in the earth.
Then I glance at my left hand and see the ring – the Treblinka ring. So much has happened to this ring. Nothing could protect the owner of this ring from her fate at Treblinka. But her ring lives on – on my finger. Maybe she was a mother, maybe a grandmother, maybe an Aunt, maybe she went to her death in the gas chamber holding her baby. I will never know. But this precious treasure was found here by Sam working in the laundry. He buried in the dirt by a tree, until that day – August 2, 1943 – the day of the revolt.
Sam dug up his buried treasures and escaped through a hole in the barbed wire fence. Out to the forest, to the Bug River, to Esther, to life. After liberation in the summer of 1944, Sam and Esther were married by Shmuel Rajzman – Sam’s cell leader in the Treblinka uprising. Was this the ring he placed on Esther’s finger that day? I do not know. But I know that Esther wore this ring during her life. After her death, it flew across the continent to Seattle in my husband Shlomo’s pocket – as it had been in his father’s pocket before him. Since that day, almost 19 years ago, I have worn and treasured this ring. When I look at it, I mostly remember Esther, but it also connects me to the story of the Jewish people and to this place I stand today – Treblinka.
As we stood about the ominously buzzing bees, Elisheva read parts of Sam’s story. The story of his initial arrival here – when there was no more than a shack, the story of his hitting the Kapo and the laundry women saving his life, the story of the Lalka and how Sam was his Pet Jew, the story of the revolt and escape. As she read, she paused, allowing our guide and translator to share the story in Polish for Grzgorz and his two children (16 and 18) and his daughter’s friend. How amazing that Grzgorz wanted to come with us and that he brought his children here to this place – so close to where they live – so they too can know. This was powerful.
When Sam escaped and ran to the woods, he quickly came to the Bug River. It is close – maybe 2 kilometers. We know that Sam jumped into the River, though he did not know how to swim. He retells that he jumped in the River and then woke up on the shore – apparently, going unconscious for some time. Sam told this story as his personal Kriat Yam Suf – splitting of the Sea – like the ancient Hebrew slaves. As Sam tread once again on dry land, he kept running – about another 20 kilometers- until he ran to the part of the forest where Esther was hiding.
All these years I assumed Sam floated to the opposite shore of the river. Grzgorz, however, showed us that Sam most likely was not carried by the tide of the river to the other side. He ended up on the Stoczeck side, which is the same side as Treblinka.
After leaving Treblinka, we knew what we had to do. We parked our van and changed to swimsuits and then jumped into the Bug River. It is not particularly clean, but that did not stop us. We all jumped in and let the current float us down river – just as it had done to Sam that day. We were, however, conscious – conscious in all the meanings of this word. We were wide awake, singing and holding hands. We were conscious of the miracle. In fact, Shlomo and our children said a special blessing for the miracle that happened here. We were conscious of our place in the flow of history and time. We were glad to be alive and together as a family – we are part of Sam and Esther’s legacy. What an honor.