So Where Are You?
"A Coda for Reflection
by Henry F. Knight
If we listen closely, we can hear traces of bittersweet wonder in the closing words of Kaddish: "I am here, I survived, and look who is with me!" A survivor, Naomi Warren, has returned to Auschwitz accompanied by her children and grandchildren. As she takes in where she is standing, and with whom, she declares her presence, echoing the biblical expression of covenantal readiness ("Hineni!"—"Here I am!") and acknowledges those whom she has brought with her on her journey of return.
The "here" in Naomi's words is a place of annihilation and death. For survivors like her, that place is filled with silenced cries and is haunted by missing friends, relatives, neighbors, and others. In her act of return she declares in living protest that she has survived and come back to assert it. Moreover, she has returned with her immediate family—targets even then of that place and its march of hatred and death. She has survived and returned with others whom she has given life. And she will tell her story and pass on life to the next generation and the next. Her declaration, then, is an affirmation laced with wonder and even protest, yet it cannot be claimed without facing the memory of what happened there or the haunting landscape to which she has returned.
And we who accompany her through our attentive listening, where are we? We can walk with her only so far. We cannot know what she has known—unless, of course, we are returning with her as survivors ourselves. Still, we—we who are not—can accept our place with her children and grandchildren, having now been included in this shared, but limited, act of return. We can accept our place with them. And if we are alert, we know that our place can also include any place that calls out for protest against hatred and death. We can learn to listen to anyone who declares, "So, I am here ... " in the protest of survival and hear it as an unarticulated question, "Where are you?" We can listen to the white fire of news reports from Darfur or to interviews from an as-yet-unnamed place where atrocity has taken hold and hear the unarticulated cries of its victims. We can be prepared for another voice to declare "Here I am," asking in its open-ended way, "So. Where are you?"