On Seeing the Display of Victims’ Suitcases at the Auschwitz Museum 

Photo: Ilya Zuskovich /


Ernst Weinstein, what went through your mind when you took the time to paint your name on the suitcase you were taking with you on the train to your unknown destination? 

What thoughts were scattered across your mindscape as you put white paint to brush and carefully wrote in a semi-calligraphic style your honorable name? 

When you stared at the side of your fine leather suitcase, did it become a rich, black canvas upon which to scribe not just your identity, but also your ego and even your soul? 

Were you proudly penning a part of your character, a personal title bestowed upon you by your doting mother, or maybe suggested by your zayde or bubbe?  

Did you feel the beauty of your script entitled you to be considered a thinking, feeling being?   

Did you take great care to write because this was the name to which you perked your ears in attention whenever spoken; the name you knew when called to light candles on Chanukah; the name you heard as you emerged as a man on your Bar Mitzvah; the name your elders cheered as you raced your cousins on Passover, flipping couch cushions in a frantic search for the afikoman; the name your sibling giggled as you struggled to swallow bitter herbs on a dare; the name your father used when he asked you to pass the wine glass on Shabbos; the name your wife whispered in tender moments? 

Or was it vital because it was the name you noted on personal letters and loving correspondence; the name you scribbled as a boy on yellowing sheets of paper as you sat for hours each day in cramped yeshivas with rows of boys so similar to you, but not one with the same name as yours; the name you signed next to your wife’s name on your wedding ketubah; the name you used for employment contracts; the name you used to secure the loan for your first home?  

As you placed your newly painted suitcase with the others at the train station, did you look at it with pride as it sat stacked among the others; did you consider the beauty and flow of the bold white letters as they stood imprinted on solid leather, a statement to the world that you were someone special, that your name gave you an existential truth? 

On the platform waiting for the cattle car that would come to take you away forever, did you glance over at your suitcase; and seeing it for the last time did it remind you that you were a flesh and bone being who breathed the wonders of life and love; that you were a living human filled with the limitless illuminated particles of the Lord; that everything that made you who you were was the essence of what it means to have a name.  

Eric Freedman is a writer and teacher living in New Jersey. His work has been published in several literary journals. 

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