Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. People all around the world will come together, in gatherings or in private, silent thought, to remember and honour the millions killed in the Holocaust. Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and I am sharing here a very moving and poignant guest post from Siggy – a member of OBOD from Austria – about her experience with Felix, a concentration camp survivor. With thanks to Kate for fine-tuning the translation and for Siggy for her wonderful words and images:
Making candles is a tradition in my family, and I was fascinated by the art as a child. Then, as an adult, I started doing it myself. At first, I made decorative candles for friends or just for me, and it was only years later I realized that candle making can have Druidic power, combining the creativity of the Bard with the healing work of the Ovate.
As an Austrian, a tour guide and a historian, I always felt a very strong connection to WW2. It was a shock to my soul, at the age of 13, to learn about my country’s role in it – and that motivated me to study history. I had visited some former concentration camps, but somehow I could never go to the most infamous one in my own country, Mauthausen. Even the thought of it was like a black, beating heart, but at the same time, it called to me.
One morning, I suddenly felt I could go, but something within me said “not alone”. I was stunned to get a call that very day from a tourist office, asking me to go there with Felix, a holocaust survivor of both Auschwitz and Mauthausen. I agreed.
It was an amazing experience, as though we were walking into the past. I had been so afraid of being overwhelmed by the energy of this place, but I felt completely protected, as if there were a shield around me. I told him, “Officially, I am your guide, but actually you are mine”.
Deep within me I wanted to make a candle for him, and I asked him for the most important date in his life. It was May 5th 1945, the day of his liberation, and I resolved to make it in time for the next anniversary.
When I make a candle, first, I wait for a colour or symbol to appear. Usually, it doesn’t take long, but this time months passed. I even took it to a Samhain ritual, hoping for a sign, but nothing happened. I started to get nervous – perhaps this candle didn’t want to speak to me.
Then, one day in January, I heard Auschwitz mentioned three times on the radio; it was the anniversary of the liberation, and this was the sign. Red and black came to mind. Felix had become a number, so that featured, as well as a swastika, a symbol I never ever thought I would make but I felt the candle wanted it. Fire erupts from it, with blood dripping down, and the letters KZ (the abbreviation for Konzentrationslager – German for concentration camp). Barbed wire symbolizes imprisonment and mortal danger, and the broken candle is for broken lives. Felix’s survival is represented by leaves growing towards liberation and becoming a human, a name, again. I included the Hebrew words for peace and life, and eventually, only one last symbol, two laurels, remained to be added, but I couldn’t do it. Making candles is to listen to the candle itself, and it was a definite “wait”.
I wondered why, then I realized that I had a visit to Poland planned, to Lodz, where Felix was born. I took the candle with me and finished it there, in his home city. In the morning of my last day there, I held it up to the light of the rising sun. It was very, very magical as I connected with the spirit of the land and the sun to ask for blessings and healing for him.
Felix received the candle in time for May 5th. His daughter wrote to tell me he could read the story I had put into it, and that it meant a great deal to him.
Now, I go to Mauthausen to create and light candles, and sometimes I take groups there. I tell them the story of the camp on the bus, and then when they arrive they can go wherever they feel drawn. When we meet again, I give each of them a candle and ask them to light it wherever they feel they want to.
Through Felix, I realized the very place I had feared so greatly was actually the place I had been searching for, and his candle gave me a connection to the spirit of the candle and to what it means to be an Ovate. ~ Siggy