Speechless at Auschwitz
by Ko Un
translation by Michael R. Burch
piles of glasses
mountains of shoes
returning, we stared out different windows.
Published by Brief Poems
pile di occhiali
montagne di scarpe
sulla via del ritorno
ognuno fissava fuori dal finestrino in direzione diversa.
(da Fiori di un istante, 2001)
Keywords/Tags: Ko Un, Holocaust, translation, speechless, Auschwitz, glasses, shoes, windows, silent, tongue-tied, wordless
“Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”)
by Günter Grass
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
Why have I remained silent, so long,
failing to mention something openly practiced
in war games which now threaten to leave us
merely meaningless footnotes?
Someone’s alleged “right” to strike first
might annihilate a beleaguered nation
whose people march to a martinet’s tune,
compelled to pageants of orchestrated obedience.
Why? Merely because of the suspicion
that a bomb might be built by Iranians.
But why do I hesitate, forbidding myself
to name that other nation, where, for years
―shrouded in secrecy―
a formidable nuclear capability has existed
beyond all control, simply because
no inspections were ever allowed?
The universal concealment of this fact
abetted by my own incriminating silence
now feels like a heavy, enforced lie,
an oppressive inhibition, a vice,
a strong constraint, which, if dismissed,
immediately incurs the verdict “anti-Semitism.”
But now my own country,
guilty of its unprecedented crimes
which continually demand remembrance,
once again seeking financial gain
(although with glib lips we call it “reparations”)
has delivered yet another submarine to Israel―
this one designed to deliver annihilating warheads
capable of exterminating all life
where the existence of even a single nuclear weapon remains unproven,
but where suspicion now serves as a substitute for evidence.
So now I will say what must be said.
Why did I remain silent so long?
Because I thought my origins,
tarred by an ineradicable stain,
forbade me to declare the truth to Israel,
a country to which I am and will always remain attached.
Why is it only now that I say,
in my advancing age,
and with my last drop of ink
on the final page
that Israel’s nuclear weapons endanger
an already fragile world peace?
Because tomorrow might be too late,
and so the truth must be heard today.
And because we Germans,
already burdened with many weighty crimes,
could become enablers of yet another,
one easily foreseen,
and thus no excuse could ever erase our complicity.
Furthermore, I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy
and because I hope many others too
will free themselves from the shackles of silence,
and speak out to renounce violence
by insisting on permanent supervision
of Israel’s atomic power and Iran’s
by an international agency
accepted by both governments.
Only thus can we find the path to peace
for Israelis and Palestinians and everyone else
living in a region currently consumed by madness
―and ultimately, for ourselves.
Published in Süddeutschen Zeitung (April 4, 2012). Günter Wilhelm Grass (1927-) is a German-Kashubian novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is widely regarded as Germany's most famous living writer. Grass is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), a key text in European magic realism. The Tin Drum was adapted into a film that won both the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Swedish Academy, upon awarding Grass the Nobel Prize in Literature, noted him as a writer "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history."