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by David Riessen

     The Holocaust was boring. My dad used to make us watch documentaries on PBS of weeping Jewish families, skeletal Jewish prisoners, and piles of Jewish corpses. It’s a lot of Jewish tragedy, but none of this ancient history meant anything to me. (When I was a little kid, the Holocaust was about 20 years in the past. Like I said, ancient history.) If we need to learn about World War II prisoners, can’t we watch Hogan’s Heroes? Sergeant Schultz was the funniest dummkopf ever.


     Then when I was 15, we went on a family vacation to Europe. And while in Germany, how about a day trip to Dachau? Are you kidding me? Who wants to go to a Nazi concentration camp on vacation? The real question, of course, is who wants to be on a Riessen family vacation when you’re me?


     As we entered through the gates of Dachau, my dad pointed to the weather-worn sign overhead: Arbeit macht frei. “Work sets you free,” he translated. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. (I think the Nazis might have been confused about a few things.) Once inside, we watched a film on the Holocaust. I had seen all these gross scenes too many times, and I was not going to pay attention now.


     Next, we took a tour through the barracks. Whatever – nothing interesting there either. And then I touched a wooden bunk bed, and everything changed. Suddenly, the history lesson came alive. You mean they lived here? They touched the same piece of wood I’m touching? They slept in these beds? Then we walked through the “showers.” They stood where I’m standing? They walked into these showers expecting clean water and getting poison gas? What was it like when they realized what was happening? For the first time, I understood the horror of the Holocaust. Turns out it was not just some stupid show on TV. It was real.


     I was thinking about this experience the other day when I read about the three quantum physicists who won the 2022 Nobel Prize for their experiments with entangled photons. They proved that two particles that are linked together in a particular way can stay linked no matter how far apart they become in space. Einstein didn’t believe in this kind of thing and mocked it as “spooky action at a distance.” I, like subgenius Albert, don’t really understand any of it, but it’s one of those things that give me hope that life is more than it appears to be.


     I wonder if this entangled particle phenomenon is somehow related to the physical and emotional jolt I felt from the bunk bed at Dachau. Maybe our spirit lives on in objects that we touch. Some kind of electrical energy or something. It’s a far-fetched theory, but so was quantum entanglement until it was verified.


     Our son Sam died suddenly four years ago, and in my basement office, I have all kinds of Sam treasures: early artwork, posters, CDs, pictures, music awards, dozens of guitar pics, and his gorgeous, cherry red Gibson ES-335 Semi-hollow body Electric Guitar. At the funeral, we placed this guitar where a casket would normally be. And when his band played an impossibly beautiful song, they put the guitar in front of Sam’s empty space.


     Sam’s empty space. I hated writing those words, and now I’ve written them again.


     But here I am with Sam’s much-loved guitar on my lap, and I feel no spooky entanglement at all. Maybe if I start trying to play (which I don’t know how to do), Sam’s spirit will guide my fingers somehow, and music will magically emerge. Nope. No music. And no physical and emotional jolt. But I wouldn’t say that I feel nothing. In fact, I think I might have discovered a whole new area of physics. Or maybe metaphysics.


     I wonder if they give a Nobel prize for longing.

David Riessen has been writing plays, screenplays, novels, and TV scripts on and off since he was a teenager. In the wake of his son's sudden death, he has focused on creative nonfiction, which seems to suit his new reality. A few of these stories are featured in Defenestration, Moon Park Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, and elsewhere. David lives in Larchmont, New York, with his wife Debi and dog Raven.

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