For I Knew I’d Never Be Back

–How I Spent My Summer Vacation in 2023 was anything but typical for me

The Dichotomy of Terezinstadt and Balmoral

Stones, Witness Stones

I stood there,
Taking it all in,
In the summer heat,
Trying to make sense of it all,
While not understanding it,
At all.
Being touched but unable,
Not allowed to physically touch
A thing,
Except myself,
My water bottle,
The shutter release button on
My camera.
What I was seeing with my eyes,
Hearing with my ears,
Feeling with my heart and soul,
Would I be capturing that,
Any of that,
Through the other lens
And with the
Soft click
Of the

I shudder to think,
As I hear the words of the tour guide,
As I stand here, sweating,
In the heat of summer.
I try,
I can’t
Truly understand.
Drops of sweat
Releasing themselves from the nape of my neck,
While you were here,
In the depths of the cold,
Living what I imagine to be

A life
Tempered by
The surrounding

Yet, here I stand.
Hearing no birds,
Hearing hushed tones,
Hearing my boots on the
Yet, I don’t feel stone cold.
But I see stones.
As we walk,
As we talk,
I bend down,
To the

I must touch something.
I must feel something.
It is the stones
That I pick
I crane my neck
Looking for,
What did I come here looking for?
Will I know it when I see it?
I see it,
Forefinger poised,
Button pressed.

Click, clack of footsteps on the stones,
The muted sounds of footsteps on
Some greenish brownish blades of grass.
There it is,

I see it with my own two eyes,
Archivist’s map in hand,
With a red Sharpie circle,
I see the yellow building.

Damn it!
I want to scream,
Yet, I don’t.
I stand,
I read the plaque.
This old building,
Still standing,
‘though you do not.
Did you stand,
On October 26, 1942?

Someone’s coming.
I’m no longer

What did you face?
With no paper upon which to trace
Your features,
Your face,
I can only stand here,
Yet, not alone any longer.

Compelled to look,
Read the plaques,
Hear the silence,
Imagine that vacant building
Filled with you,
Filled with your heart and soul.

Soul searching,
Heart wrenching,
I’m compelled
To look
To reach for
That Shutter,
That Release,
That Button.

To take something of this
Place with me,
Something tangible,
Something I’m allowed to touch,
Something I’m allowed to feel.

I hear,
I turn,
Did you walk here?

Drawn to look down,
Instead of up,
Down to the

I’ll take one, two,
A few.
And that’s what
I do.
As my time here
Comes to a close,
And I must bid you
For now.

I’ll share,
I’ll remember,
You are not lost,
With my daughter, my son and my husband by my side,
We’ve found you.
With stones we finger,
With stones in our pockets,
We are touching,
We are touched,
We are connected
To you.

And now, I stand here,
Sweating in the summer heat,
Touching the stones,
You stones,
One just like a button.
And I am ready,
Ready to press,
To release,
To shudder,
To sit,
And to share with you the stories
Of the generations you missed,
And of the generations who’ve missed you.
Of the son who grew up to have a full head of white hair,
Of the granddaughter who would become my aunt,
Of the great grandchildren
And of the great, great grandchildren. 

Ode to Balmoral

I look up
Into the canopy of green.
Upwards towards the blue sky,
As far as my eyes can see.
Oh, if these boughs and branches,
Barks and leaves could talk!
The tales they would tell of
Little royals frolicking through the grounds,
Of future princes and princess,
Kings and queens,
Laying in waiting to
Play tag,
To run,
Teasing and laughing,
Strolling and streaming with tears from
Being pushed on a swing
To swing dancing in the ballroom,
From courtship,
To courtiers
To crowns.
From the green, green grass of home
To home for the last time
To your final resting place.

I stood there,
Looking up,
Looking down,
Looking around,
Taking it all in,
In the summer’s heat,
Seeing the blossoms and the gardeners,
Hearing the birds chirping,
Listening to the chatter of families and the audio tour guide
Being touched but unable,
Not allowed to physically touch
A thing,
Except myself,
My water bottle,
The shutter button on my
What I was seeing with my eyes,
Hearing with my ears,
Feeling with my heart and soul,
Would I be capturing that,
Any of that,
Through the other lens and
With the
Soft click
Of the

As I stand here sweating,
In the heat of summer’s wave,
I can imagine you here,
Waving and walking,
Running and racing,
Bowing and breaking bread,
Curtsying and courting,
What I imagine
To be
A life,
Yeah, sprinkled with harsh moments,
Yet, a

So, here I stand,
Hearing birds,
Hearing tourists talking,
Hearing my feet on the well

I feel the warmth of the sun
As I see the building
As it appears
In front of me.
I see the stones,
The big stones,
As we walk
As we talk.
As we stroll,
As the hills roll,
Around me,
I look up,
Drawn to the
Made of

I crane my neck,
Looking for
What did I come here
Looking for?
Will I know it when I see it?
I see it,
Forefinger poised,

Crunch, crush of footsteps on the stones,
The muted sounds of footsteps on the
Lush green grass of home.
There it is,
I see it with my own tow eyes,
Tourist map in hand,
I see the castle.
I stand,
It seems smaller
Than I
Pictured it.

This old building

Still stands
‘though you do not.
Did you enjoy your time here?
The newspapers and television
Show you
Usually composed.
Did you let
Your guard

Someone’s coming.
I am surrounded by people,
Of families and friends
On holiday.

Compelled again,
To look,
At the plaques,
Hear the audio guide,
Imagine the estate,
Teeming with royals,
Filled hearth, with stature.

Eyes searching,
Lips quenching,
I’m compelling
To look
To reach for the

To take something of
This place
With me,
Look around.

We stroll
As if we have all the time
In the world,
To take

Drawn to look
Ah, at the gift shop.
Drawn to
At the prices,
Instead of
At the crystal on display.
I take a few packets of seeds,
A few
Commemorative towels,
And as the cash register chimes,
It is time,
And I must
Bid you
For now.

I shall share,
I’ll remember,
How I felt
In the
Side by side
In my mind,
Terezin and you, Balmoral.

With stones being touched by
The five outstretched fingers on one hand,
And fabric being touched
By five outstretched fingers on the second hand,
Time ticks,
And we’re connected
To you.

As we pass through the gates,
On the bridge,
Over the stream,
Who am I among
Family and guests,
Who pass by
The memorial to those
Whose lives were lost,
Who fought for you.
Who am I among
Those who stop,
Read the words,
Who see that symbol,
Who feel
Who shudder themselves,
Whose eyes may shutter?
And those who may also,
Read that plaque,
Those words
As an

So, now I stand here,
Sweating in the summer heat,
And ready
To press.

At last, here I am,
Pencil in hand,
To release,
To shutter,
To sit,
To share with you the stories,
As your curators and docents
Your fans and courtiers,
Your journalists and your descendants
Share with the public.
The public, the strangers, the neighbors,
Those who become your friends, your enemies,
Your social media,
For generations to come.

Author’s note:

As a child and through adulthood, I practiced Judaism. With that came attending Hebrew School and Public School. There were formal and informal lessons and presentations about the Holocaust. I grew up hearing about some local people who were survivors and of the friends and friends of the family who lost so much.

Not once, in all those years, did I ever hear about anyone closely or remotely connected to our family who had perished in the Holocaust. Not once, until Spring 2023, when I was speaking with my cousin and telling her about our first blended family vacation to Prague. At the urging of my daughter, we added a visit to a concentration camp, what we called Terezin, to our itinerary. It was as I was sharing the planning with my oldest first cousin that she stopped me and told me that her great-grandmother, Zazzie Joe’s mother, had been transported to and died at Terezin. In a split second, I felt shaken. I felt so much that I still cannot put into words. I had a lot of questions. My cousin, Gail, had some questions; we had more questions than answers.

Promise, I promised that if she sent me copies of the records she had and the notes about Berta S., that I would make sure to seek answers during our tour. This poem is the outcome of that trip to Terezinstadt, what we call Terezin.

After taking the tour, I was able to speak with an attendant who quickly escorted me along with my manilla envelope to the archivist’s office. At one office I met with two people who looked at the paperwork and notes, make copies for themselves, and then got onto the computer. In those few minutes, these two, kind people confirmed that Berta S. had indeed been transported to this place and that she had perished there. They would continue to look for information and contact me via email.

Then, the tour guide came to get me. We had to move on, time was up.

We moved on to the second phase, another part of Terezin. This part was still functioning. No, it isn’t a concentration camp, it is a town. You see, before the war, Terezin had existed as a town, a military fortress with its own buildings and residents, and village square with a church and stores, streets, and people. After the end of the Holocaust, when Terezin was liberated, per se, some of the former residents returned to reclaim what had been taken from them, their homes, and their property. And thus, people live in Terezin, today.

It is here, at the museum, that I asked to meet with an archivist. That was hastily arranged and this gentleman was so kind and patient. I showed him the paperwork, and he made copies and opened up his computer for us. He found out more about Berta. He found the building she was housed in and yes, it still stood and yes he gave me a map and circled it in red. He found out when she died when she was cremated in the building that was on the premises. He told me that there’s a good possibility that due to the date of her death, her urn number, that her ashes were not tossed into the nearby river, but rather that they were in an urn that was unearthed after the war ended. That urn, along with others that were found, were buried in the National Cemetary, marked by a headstone. For that, as I have done and seen done, the stone became important. I gathered stones to bring back, to share with my cousin so that we could put one here, on a grave, and keep one, as a reminder, as something to touch that perhaps Berta had walked on, had touched.

A week later we were on a tour of Balmoral, the estate of the British monarchs, the place where Queen Elizabeth took her last breath. The dichotomy of walking on the grass of the royals caught me, unaware and yet to be shaken.

Writing this poem is the beginning of making sense of this sensory and otherworldly, perhaps, experience. I am of the age and among those who were star-struck when Charles and Diana got married. Being a school teacher and marrying a prince, is a dream come true. Then, the births, the affairs, the nastiness, and the death. The death of Diana to the death of the Queen.

These came to mind and more. Upon entering Balmoral, there is a monument on one’s left side. It is a memorial to those who fought in wars. Yet, on the plaque, in the center, are rows of small swastikas. Adjacent to this stone, is another stone with a plaque, and upon reading it, it felt like a disclaimer. The message was that the first monument was erected and stands with its inscription and symbols at a time with the swastika was not a disparaging symbol. It still unsettles me, even with this second plaque that exists to explain the first one.

Editor’s Note: Featured image (Terezin Nazi Concentration Camp)  courtesy of  Richard Mortel from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Hope Blecher Ed.D.
Hope Blecher Ed.D.
HOPE BLECHER has been a working professional in the field of education for 39 years. She holds an earned Ed.D., an MA, and a BA, in addition to three NJDOE issued standard teaching certifications and two administrative certifications. Recently, she was asked to be the first Senior Advisor for ReadM, an educational app. Other firsts include serving as the English Language Learner Specialist at SUNY Sullivan County Community College and being a Literacy Coach for a school district in Central New Jersey. She serves as an English as a Second Language, ESL, service provider for an adult education program in NJ. Previously, Hope served as the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator for an independent school, and as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Language Arts Literacy, Social Studies, and Library/Media Services. Along with friends, neighbors and colleagues, Hope co-authors educational books and articles.

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