102.000 namen lezen

stilstaan bij Holocaustslachtoffers – door Dina Awwad – Srour, Emma Sham-Ba Ayalon, Raymond Legtenberg en Annie Schalkwijk

Op 27 januari 2020 was het 75 jaar geleden dat concentratie- en vernietigingskamp Auschwitz, hét internationale symbool van de Holocaust, werd bevrijd. Zen Peacemakers Lage Landen organiseerde een bearing witness retraite in Kamp Westerbork. Met 24 mensen namen we deel aan het lezen van de 102.000 namen. 


“Donker, koud en miezerig, we lopen door het kille bos richting het kamp. Ik probeer mij te verbeelden hoe het zou zijn geweest voor de gedeporteerde joden … je eigen dood tegemoet lopen.” 


Annie Schalkwijk

“Wat diepe indruk gemaakt heeft was om met onze groep deel te nemen aan het namen lezen. Achter elkaar bladzijden vol met dezelfde achternamen. Hele families vermoord, daarbij stil te staan en er stil van worden.”


“De toegang is in het licht gezet en langzaamaan hoor ik in de verte de namen van de slachtoffers. Hoe dichterbij we komen, hoe luider ze klinken.
Een Joodse man leest namen:
….m’n nicht, ….m’n neef, …m’n tante, …m’n oma, …m’n opa, hij breekt.
Ik sprak hem nadien, hij was er bang voor geweest maar vond dat hij het toch moest doen. Ik bedank hem. Hoe zwaar moet zijn leven wel niet zijn geweest na de Holocaust?

We krijgen leesinstructie. Ik wacht en iets voor half 12 mag ik mee naar voren lopen om “mijn namen” te lezen waaronder 86x Kokernoot, ik voel dat er streaming met mij meegekeken wordt, fijn!

Hoe anders dan thuis, hoe harder komt het binnen nu? Ik probeer stil te staan bij de namen van de kinderen maar de autocue dwingt om door te lezen. Het lijkt het echte leven wel.

Is stilstaan geen vooruitgang?

In Westerbork zijn gaat je besef te boven, waar kan een mens toe in staat zijn? Maar ook: hoe kunnen mensen met vertrouwen leven in het héden, zonder angst voor de toekomst, gevangen zijn en toch bevrijd. Ik lees Etty Hillesum.

Opdat we de essentie van het leven niet verliezen.”

Dina Awwad-Srour – Palestine

“In the time of the announcement of the peace plan of Trump for the Palestine/Israel conflict, and while most of the world leaders went to Israel to commemorate the end of the Second World War, we: Emma Sham-Ba Ayalon, a Jewish Israeli, and Dina Awwad-Srour, a Christian Palestinian, took part in the Zen Peacemakers retreat in Westerbork and in the reading of the 102,000 names of those who were transported and later murdered from Westerbork to Auschwitz. Somehow it felt just our being there was like a political statement by itself; trying to plant a seed of healing amidst all the craziness that was going on in Palestine/Israel. 

When we first arrived to Westerbork, while entering the camp and listening to the names being read through the speakers, I observed my inner conflict; “Is it enough to read the names to heal the trauma? Is bearing witness to actions of horror enough to heal the wounds?” The war is over, the holocaust is over yet the trauma still exists until today. I thought of my people, the Palestinians; their pain that is not being acknowledged; rage is in the streets in Palestine because of the peace plan which Trump announced. I wondered how the pain of the Palestinians could be acknowledged so that the trauma does not continue to the next generations.

I did not have answers then and I still do not. I carry those questions with me and I think of the prayer which Etty Hillesum did in Westerbork; “Let me be the thinking heart of these barracks”.  Because of Etty I went to Auschwitz almost ten years ago and this year because of her I came to Westerbork. I thought a lot about her letters that she wrote from the camp and how she was able to make this prayer. And I wondered what is my prayer that I wish to make that would serve healing. And I am still in search for that prayer.”


Emma Sham-Ba Ayalon – Israel

“As we walk and meditate in the darkness of the night in Holland’s transition camp Westerbork from which people were sent to the concentration camps in Poland and never came back, I think of Etty Hillesum who walked the same road and wrote these words:

“The misery here is quite terrible; and yet, late at night when the day has slunk away into the depths behind me, I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire. And then, time and again, it soars straight from my heart – I can’t help it, that’s just the way it is, like some elementary force – the feeling that life is glorious and magnificent, and that one day we shall be building a whole new world. Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness, drawing strength from within ourselves.” (3 July 1942)

We join the ritual when the names of Etty Hillesum and all her family members are read by Manja Praag who established the memorial place in Westerbork. Manja’s father was part of the resistance movement and he knew Etty Hillesum personally and offered to support her in hiding. Etty didn’t want to separate herself from the fate of her people and refused. She was 29 years old when she died. Many times I can feel the richness of her spirit that is so alive but walking in Westerbork the grief of her death also reaches me.

For five days, day and night, nonstop, in a constant rhythm the names of 102,000 people who passed through the camp and were murdered by the Nazis are read. Dina, my Palestinian friend and me, a jewish Israeli, joined this retreat with the Zen Peacemakers and with Pat and Karin who make a documentary about our peace work that is inspired by Etty Hillesum. Every person who joins reads the names for ten minutes, giving respect to the dead. I am the only Jewish person in our retreat and I am touched by so many people who have no ancestors who died in the war and still feel called to be part of the healing ritual. Before us in the reading there is a Jewish old man who read the names of his family members who were killed. He burst up crying telling after each name: “She was my grandmother”, “she was my aunt” and so on. After each name the age of the people in the time of their death is mentioned. Dina and me learned to pronounce the Dutch names and to say the numbers in Dutch but when I reach the name Julia Margaretha van Klooten who was killed at the age of seven months my voice is trembles. While reading, I am holding my belly, The motherly womb in which life is created finds it hard to contain the dimension of death. I try to reach out to the invisible souls. Tell them that they are still with us. I feel like roaring the names but find the calmness to read them in peace one by one.

When I studied astronomy, I go to know how huge the universe is and how difficult it is to grasp its dimensions. I learned about the distance from the earth to the sun as an astronomical unit that helps measure those huge distances. I felt that way in Westerbork, that the astronomical dimensions of the murder had somehow become tangible with the steady rhythm of reading the names day and night. Next to the barbed wire that surrounds the camp there are also radio telescopes. I connect with them as my device to the invisible souls. I hear from Alexandra who is with us in the retreat that these telescopes are trying to get information about the origin of the universe. What a mixture of researching the system of life while remembering the horrors of the system of death.”