Psalm 44 at Auschwitz

Hayim stands with other men, waiting for his head to be shaved and his arm tattooed. “This is your father and mother,” a Kapo says, as his hand closes on a handful of ash. Hayim stumbles out of the queue with a piercing shriek. A blow from a rifle-butt to his head brings him reeling to his knees. The SS guard thrusts the muzzle of his gun into Hayim’s cheek. Hayim sees words from a Psalm in black Hebrew letters spinning around. He whispers, “‘Why do you hide your face, ignoring our affliction and distress ?

As an inmate shaves his side curls, Hayim declares, “‘All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten You, or been false to Your covenant.’” When he is numbered, Psalm 44 he continues to proclaim: “‘It is for Your sake that we are slain all day long, that we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” That night, as he lies down to sleep, he prays, “‘Rouse Yourself; why do You sleep, O Lord? Awaken, do not reject us forever!’”

-Bernard Otterman