At 09:25 AM 1/28/2005, you wrote:
>One woman, who was 18 when taken there in 1944, now living in Toronto,
>spoke of how upon arrival, after being separated, they were stripped,
>shaved (all body hair) etc, then tattooed, & how every act was meant to
>humiliate & dehumanize them. Sound familiar?
>And all he talk about Never Again, while the last 10 years alone have
>seen so much.
>What can be said in the face of that? What 'poem'?
I don't know. Maybe indirection is all there is. Yes, there is Nelly
Sachs. How many others could go AT the Holocaust? Chaim Bialik could write
"In the Town of Death" (also called "City of Slaughter") after the Kishinev
pogroms but murder hadn't yet become an industrial enterprise. So what are
we left with? Words, surely, but what can of poetry can it make?
Back in the late 1980s I taught a Hebrew School class for bar mitzvah age
kids--it was on the Holocaust, and it was a nightmare because these kids
were a bad class, overprivileged and reality-proofed; plus I had no idea
how reach children that age unless they were mine. I arranged to bring a
speaker in. The couple I contacted--their names were Mari and George (born
Tibor) Kaufman--insisted I come to their home one evening to help us all
prepare for what Mari would say: George was going to be out of town on
business They were Hungarian Jews who were taken in 1944 from their
village, put on trains, and transported to Auschwitz. I forget some
details of George's story, but Mari's are burned into me. After about six
months in Auschwitz she was moved as a slave laborer to an airplane factory
near Leipzig. Then she was moved to whatever was left of Theresienstadt.
For years the Kaufmans kept silence, kept their sufferings to
themselves. At some point a few years before, something happened to make
them believe they owed the world their testimony. They began to speak in
synagogues, at UJAs, at any organization that would have them.
And there were stories like this:
Upon arrival on the train platform at Auschwitz, Mari and her mother and
baby sister were separated by a beautifully uniformed officer. The man saw
that Mari was strapping and able to work, but that the mother and baby were
"useless." He ordered them to the left and Mari to the right. Mari began
to rush after her mother and sister and the officer struck her in the face
with his riding crop. "You are stupid!" he said. "Now go to the
right!" That evening at the house Mari said "That was Dr. Mengele himself,
and in a way he saved my life." Most of her family survived the war
because they were in Budapest where Raoul Wallenberg worked his magic to
keep them safe; but the mother and baby died that same day.
George was sent to Auschwitz with his father. As he put it to me, his
father never understood what was happening to him, and why. He had been a
career cavalry officer in the Hungarian army, thought of himself as more
Hungarian than Jew, and could not absorb why this was being done to him. I
do not know when he was sent to the gas chamber, but he died there all the
same. George's fate was more fortunate, indeed miraculous. He was grabbed
in a "selektion" with some other men and told to report to the
showers. Anyone who had been in the camp for more than an hour knew what
this meant, and the men undressed and began praying aloud. At that moment
a Nazi officer walked in, surveyed the naked men before him. "I need three
men for a work detail: you, you, and you, get dressed and come with
me!" George, who even in late middle age was built like a bull, was one of
the three. He was thrown onto the back of a truck full of corpses and
driven into Germany. He used the dead bodies to warm himself.
The story Mari would not tell the kids: as prisoners, she and her
companions were allowed to take real showers. When she and her
co-prisoners discovered what the cakes of soap were really made of, after
the war they took as many as they could assemble and gave them religious
What 'poem' indeed? I have tried to write about some of this. I cannot do
it. I don't have the language to raise these stories beyond they are here,
Kenneth Wolman www.kenwolman.com kenwolman.blogspot.com
"This is the best of all possible worlds only because it is the only one
that showed up."-- Russell Edson