Yesterday was our first full day at the camps. We spent the morning at Auschwitz I after beginning our plunge into Not Knowing as we do each year watching two films in the Auschwitz museum theater, two film depicting horrors beyond imagination. We spent the afternoon at Birkenau, the immense death factory also known as Auschwitz II.
This is a unique year for the retreat. It is a closed retreat this year for former bearing witness retreat staff and a few invited guests, 30 of us altogether. We also have a small film crew with us. Our purpose to to revision the retreat and give it new life as not only a bearing witness retreat but a vehicle for doing reconciliation work with persons involved in major regional conflicts around the world. We are also working on bringing the retreat to other parts of the world, other tragedies and horrors that need remembrance, truth and reconciliation, and healing. Our invited guests include five peacemaker friends from Rwanda, where we will run a pilot bearing witness retreat and staff training in 2009 and a public bearing witness retreat in 2010. Our Rwandan friends are accompanied by a German man who works for a German agency involved in peace building projects in Rwanda. We also have two friends from the middle east, both experienced peacemakers, one an Israeli from Jerusalem and the other a Palestinian from Bethlehem. The rest of us, all former staff of the Auschwitz retreat, hail from many places, including Poland, Germany, Italy, Turkey, United States and Switzerland.
After a full day in the camps, we had our first large council dialog last night, with each person introducing themselves and sharing what brought them here to Auschwitz this year. Everyone dropped right into essence and shared the depth of the hearts with each other. I found myself filled with awe and joy as I listened to the pain and beauty in each or our sharing.
It’s early in the morning now. I’ve been up for awhile, unable to sleep. It will be time for our early morning small council groups soon, each of us meets with the small council group (about 8 participants each) for next four mornings. Then after breakfast we will head back to Birkenau for a full day of our traditional retreat form, meditating and reading the names of holocaust victims at the infamous Selection Site, wandering and bearing witness in the camp, participating in various optional religious services, saying Kaddish together and lighting candles at the crematoria.
Wednesday through Friday we will remain her at the Center for Dialog and Prayer where we are staying, just across the street from Auschwitz I, and begin our work of re-visioning the Auschwitz retreat.
We will light candles today for all the forgotten names. Please know that for those of you with family ties to the holocaust, you and your families are included in our bearing witness, meditations and prayers.
Many blessings to you you all,