Every year, a group of Polish Christians would come and try to whitewash the ceiling. Yet, their efforts proved to be fruitless, as the blue-singed testimony would always return. The blue color was all that remained of those horrific moments and it would not be covered.
On a trip to Poland with Rabbi Mordechai Elon several years ago, my son and his classmates produced a movie describing their trek into the abandoned valleys of death. Their voyage was focused on the death and the destruction, but it also attempted to relive the lives, dreams and culture of a thousand years of Jewish communal life in Poland.
There are several minutes in that film that will be forever etched in my mind, and on this Holocaust Remembrance Day I feel a need to recount those minutes again.
I watched the video and saw their arrival in the Maidanek concentration camp. They entered the gas chambers and huddled together because of the cold temperatures, mainly because of that inescapable chill that was clutching at their souls. They stood listening to one of the Holocaust survivors that had volunteered to come with them on their trip from Israel. At one point in the description, the guide asked them to look up at the ceiling.
The concrete was streaked with swatches of a bluish tinge. The guide explained that the bluish streaks were the remnant of the poisonous Zyklon-B gas that snuffed out the lives of so many men, women and children. He continued to describe how every year, a group of Polish Christians would come and try to whitewash the ceiling. Yet, their efforts proved to be fruitless, as the blue-singed testimony would always return. The blue color was all that remained of those horrific moments and it would not be covered.
I thought of those horrifying moments and the terror and the cries. I thought about the prayers in that darkened cell. I suddenly realized that the bluish tinge was not what was left over from the Zyklon gas. It was what remained of the victims' prayers.
The prayer that filled that horrific chamber was the Sh'ma prayer: "Hear O Israel, HaShem our G-d, HaShem is one." It is this same prayer that had risen and rent the heavens so many other times in the history of this people. It was a prayer uttered in the torture chambers of the Inquisition, during the pogroms of the Crusades and in the massacre of the Jewish community in Hebron. It was the last words of a father and little son as they lay dying on the floor of the Sbarro's restaurant after a Palestinian terrorist attack.
It is a prayer that declares for all eternity that faith cannot be bludgeoned, burned or gassed into oblivion. Faith lasts forever.
The last paragraph of the Sh'ma ( Numbers 15) describes the string of t'chelet (blue) that was added to the fringes of the tallit — "put with the fringe of each corner a thread of t'chelet." (Numbers 15:38) This color would be reminiscent of another blue color, the color of the divine Throne of Glory, "And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a blue sapphire stone." (Ezekiel 1:26)
The last prayer in that horrible concrete room was the Sh'ma and it was the Sh'ma that left that bluish tinge, not the gas. The victims' collective prayer left an imprint of t'chelet on the ceiling as their prayers rose unto the Throne of Glory. That is where their prayers, and their souls, reside together with six million others, never to be forgotten.
The bluish tinge in Maidanek is but a whisper of Glory. Yet, it is also a constant reminder of divine promises that will yet be fulfilled. As we all stand under the t'chelet skies in Gush Katif, the Shomron, Jerusalem and throughout this great land, we will utter that prayer in faith, strength and rejoicing.