My Grandfather had always told me I looked like his oldest brother, the one that had taken him and his two younger cousins to Ireland and left in the hands of a loving Irish family. I'd always felt close to this unknown man, even more so during the trip as I was close to his age at the time, and for another reason. We shared the same name.
I had always dismissed my Grandfather's claims that we looked alike as nothing but words he said to make me feel more connected to my secret past. But when I finally stood beside Jess and looked at the photograph her porcelain hand was point to I knew my Grandfather had not been lying in the slightest. The picture showed a sepia set of skeletal men, their heads shaved bald and wearing the traditional white and blue striped uniforms. My eyes rested longest on the figure one from the centre. It was me. It felt like staring at my reflection, as I do every morning to shave and brush my teeth, I knew what I looked like. And this malnourished, bruised and frail looking young Jew looked exactly like me. We shared the same shape of eye, our jaw lines were virtually identical, we had the same crooked bump on the bridge of our noses, the same darkness of iris, the same sticky out ears and the same stature. Nothing separated us. We could have been twins, he and I. The only things breaking us apart from one another were time and the void of death. Taking the picture from the wall I remember the man shouting at me in Polish, I didn't hear the words and wouldn't have understood them anyway.
I just stared at the picture. This old image showing me in a past life. I don't remember starting to cry, but I do remember the feeling of the tears dripping off my chin as I held the picture. But it wasn't sadness or rage that made me cry. It was guilt. Guilt in the fact that I had survived and he hadn't. That the only reason I was stood here know was for his bravery, if it wasn't for him I would never have been born, I would never have set foot on this planet, my existence had cost him his life. And it wasn't fair. I was as Jewish as he was? Why am I allowed to live when he was put to death? We looked the same, if the Nazis were around today I would have suffered the same fate as he did. So who decided? Who tossed the dice to see who lived and who died? The next feeling I had was betrayal, I had betrayed them. I follow no faith or creed. I don't pray or go to church or believe in heaven or hell. Yet it was that very faith that had made them targets in the first place, that faith that gave them strength in the darkest of times when they were stripped of everything that made them human. And I didn't follow it. I didn't pray to the god they prayed too. I just existed. I just went to school and trained and went the gym and hung out with friends. I didn't have the faith these people did.
It could have so easily been me in that picture. It could have so easily been me sent to those camps in the roasting trains or the bumpy trucks. But it wasn't. And now I stood in the place where twenty three members of my family had died. Clutching a picture of one of them, weeping like a child over things that could have been. Over the lives the Fraggrionelli's might have lead, the hearts they could have broken and the jobs they would have had, the children they could have brought into the world and the wives and husbands they would have given headaches too. The dishes they would have washed. The houses they would have lived in.
Auschwitz for me is both the place where my family was born and died, later this year my sister will be making the trip with her own College. I've told her to watch out for the picture of the man Grandad used to tell us about. And I hope it changes her like it changed me. Because from that day I wasn't just living for me, I was living for those twenty three men and women who were just a number to everyone else. But to me were the most important people in the world. I had to keep their names alive through history, and remember that it could have so easily been me. And that without Benvolio, my twin through time, I wouldn't be here telling you this story.