Birkenau Guard Tower

As we walked slowly toward the train terminal, the air warmed and humidity followed us across the trampled grounds. My mother’s breathing was labored and rough as if she had been running away from a nightmare. When we arrived, the building was empty save for the distant echo of the boots worn by the SS as they moved up and down the stairs. We climbed toward the top of the guard tower that sits above the track, the whole of Birkenau spread at our feet. I hung back as we climbed, watching through a window as a police car pulled up in advance of the arrival of the queen of Denmark. I turned to see that my mother had moved ahead, as if poised to take flight.
Instinct took over and I pushed the shutter. The camera was my companion, an alter ego at the ready, seeking truth. The instances when that truth would reveal itself were impossible to predict, but I needed to be there, ready, as those random moments appeared. Maybe here in the tower was such an infinitesimal slice of clarity, rooted in my mother’s unwavering search for meaning. When I look at the picture of her in the guard tower I see her climbing to heaven. I see someone who is both alive and already dead, moving toward the light.