Thursday, November 8, 2012


Holocaust Poetry - Hilda Schiff, Ed.

When we studied World War II in school, I read everything I could find, written not by historians, but by survivors and those who liberated them. Because of this, as a teenager I found myself immersed in the first hand accounts of the worst of human potential.

Along side all this evil was the strength, resilience, and dignity of both those who made it out and those who didn't, in spite of efforts to strip them of that dignity. It all truly colored my views on what it means to be a responsible member of our human community.

When I saw this anthology in the store, in spite of my decision to cut way down on my book acquisitions, I bought it. It includes the voices of 59 poets, some familiar and some just plain powerful. This is an amazing work. Let me leave you with a few pieces.

          The first one is very familiar:

First They Came for the Jews
 - Pastor Niemoller

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. 
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The Butterfly 
 - Pavel Friedmann     
            April 6, 1942

The last, the very last,
So richly brightly, dazzling yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-buy.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live here,
in the ghetto.

- Edward Bond
If Auschwitz had been in Hampshire
There would have been Englishmen to guard it
To administer records
Marshall transports
Work the gas ovens
And keep silent
The smoke would have drifted over these green hills

It's not that all men are evil or creatures of instinct
We - even our subjective self - are products of history
Of political change
In history two things join
Our will and things beyond our will
We change what we are as a means of controlling these things
That is: we create a new culture
We remain human only by changing
Each generation must create its own humanity

And the smoke will drift over these green hills
Our culture makes us barbarians
It does not allow us to live humanely
We must create a new culture
Or cease to be human

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