Pearls of Ash and Awe

I wrote these lines after my first Bearing Witness retreat in Auschwitz Birkenau with the Zen Peacemakers in 2014. It was published a year later in the book „Pearls of Ash and Awe“. The book includes some testimonies and reflections from other retreat participants and gives some background. This is in appreciation of the 20 years of Bearing Witness in Auschwitz with Bernie Glassman and Zen Peacemakers. The editor is Kathleen Battke. Thank you Kathleen for your effort in compiling this!


Matzes of Humanity. Fragments of Life

by Svenja Hollweg

First the fear, then the war, now annealed into our Human cells: the seemingly eternal mode of attack no defense.
So much, so convinced of something,
That we turn blind for what is, for the human being, the situation that is present.
Concealment through predominance of concepts.
The unconceivable hell is possible. As man.

Suddenly, in the middle of acting.
Like frozen.
Missend – missed as a human being.
Remaining stock-still.
In the middle of a breath humanity is
halted –
extinguished –
paused –

Breathing out is missing.
Deep cultures are slowed down. Peoples ´soul full of pain.
Human-Culture fragmented Frozen in the middle of a breath.
Giving space to the stories of the past. Listening to the stories of now.
A call for breathing out:
Breathe, humans!
Breathe for all these humans
Out with them
So that time gets moving!
„We ´ve all eben together before
Dancing in starlight upon the same shore
Soul weavers of sound and light
Gather together once more“ *
Peace-making – parts and the whole.
And in this ist is as of I ´d walk the ground of my Self.
Everything inside of me
Through me, through
In Auschwitz-Birkenau I picked up an acorn.
During the retreat I held it in my hand, in my coat pocket.
After a couple of days, the acorn burst open.
The Skin.
Through warmness.
Will to live, tender vitality, joyfull forwardness
One might think that in a place like this, nothing would eher grow again,
And now there ´s a green sprout, insistently welling up from its paring.
What now? This sprout indeed wanted me to act
I gave it a pot, gave it garden mold and water
And surprisingly – I now take care of a little oak tree
Promising a whole forest
Peace-making – parts and the whole.
I will dare to advance further into the mazes of humanity.
I believe it is worthwhile, because I sense there ´s more than just a confusing labyrinth.
A new culture, in case.
In silent days I can see it grow and hear it breathe
Breathe humans!
Breathe for all human beings
Out with them
So that time gets moving!

*a Song from Hawaii


More about Svenja Hollweg see on her website

The book “Pearls of Ash & Awe” is published by Edition Steinrich

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