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Holocaust Poem Translations

Speechless at Auschwitz
by Ko Un
translation by Michael R. Burch

At Auschwitz
piles of glasses
mountains of shoes
returning, we stared out different windows.

Published by Brief Poems

Original text:

Ad Auschwitz
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, mrbholo



Primo Levi Holocaust Poem Translations

Shema
by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You who live secure
in your comfortable homes,
who return each evening to find
warm food and welcoming faces...

Consider: is this a 'man'
who slogs through the mud,
who knows no peace,
who fights for crusts of bread,
who dies at another man's whim,
at his 'yes' or his 'no.'

Consider: is this is a 'woman'
bald and bereft of a name
because she lacks the strength to remember,
her eyes as void and her womb as frigid
as a winter frog's.

Consider that such horrors have indeed been!

I commend these words to you.
Engrave them in your hearts
when you lounge in your beds
and again when you rise,
when you venture outside.
Repeat them to your children,
or may your houses crumble
and disease render you helpless
so that even your offspring avert their eyes.



Buna
by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Mangled feet, cursed earth,
the long interminable line in the gray morning
as Buna smokes corpses through industrious chimneys...

Another gray day like every other day awaits us.

The terrible whistle shrilly announces dawn:
'Rise, wretched multitudes, with your lifeless faces,
welcome the monotonous hell of the mud...
another day's suffering has begun! '

Weary companion, I know you well.

I see your dead eyes, my disconsolate friend.
In your breast you bear the burden of cold, deprivation, emptiness.
Life long ago broke what remained of the courage within you.

Colorless one, you once were a real man;
a considerable woman once accompanied you.

But now, my invisible companion, you lack even a name.
So forsaken, you are unable to weep.
So poor in spirit, you can no longer grieve.
So tired, your flesh can no longer shiver with fear...

My once-strong man, now spent,
were we to meet again
in some other world, beneath some sunnier sun,
with what unfamiliar faces would we recognize each other?

Note: Buna was the largest Auschwitz sub-camp, with around 40,000 'workers' who had been enslaved by the Nazis. Primo Levi called the Jews of Buna the 'slaves of slaves' because the other slaves outranked them.



Ber Horowitz Holocaust Poetry Translations

Der Himmel
'The Heavens'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

These skies
are leaden, heavy, gray...
I long for a pair
of deep blue eyes.

The birds have fled
far overseas;
Tomorrow I'll migrate too,
I said...

These gloomy autumn days
it rains and rains.
Woe to the bird
Who remains...



Doctorn
'Doctors'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Early this morning I bandaged
the lilac tree outside my house;
I took thin branches that had broken away
and patched their wounds with clay.

My mother stood there watering
her window-level flower bed;
The morning sun, quite motherly,
kissed us both on our heads!

What a joy, my child, to heal!
Finished doctoring, or not?
The eggs are nicely poached
And the milk's a-boil in the ***.



Broit
'Bread'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness. Why?
On the hard uncomfortable floor the exhausted people lie.

Flung everywhere, scattered over the broken theater floor,
the exhausted people sleep. Night. Late. Too tired to snore.

At midnight a little boy cries wildly into the gloom:
'Mommy, I'm afraid! Let's go home! '

His mother, reawakened into this frightful place,
presses her frightened child even closer to her breast …

'If you cry, I'll leave you here, all alone!
A little boy must sleep... this, now, is our new home.'

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness all around,
exhausted people sleeping on the hard ground.



'My Lament'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Nothingness enveloped me
as tender green toadstools
lie blanketed by snow
with its thick, heavy prayer shawl …
After that, nothing could hurt me …



Wladyslaw Szlengel Holocaust Poem Translation

Excerpts from 'A Page from the Deportation Diary'
by Wladyslaw Szlengel
translation by Michael R. Burch

I saw Janusz Korczak walking today,
leading the children, at the head of the line.
They were dressed in their best clothes—immaculate, if gray.
Some say the weather wasn't dismal, but fine.

They were in their best jumpers and laughing (not loud) ,
but if they'd been soiled, tell me—who could complain?
They walked like calm heroes through the haunted crowd,
five by five, in a whipping rain.

The pallid, the trembling, watched high overhead,
through barely cracked windows—pale, transfixed with dread.

And now and then, from the high, tolling bell
a strange moan escaped, like a sea gull's torn cry.
Their 'superiors' looked on, their eyes hard as stone.
So let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

Footfall... then silence... the cadence of feet...
O, who can console them, their last mile so drear?
The church bells peal on, over shocked Leszno Street.
Will Jesus Christ save them? The high bells career.

No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

No one will offer the price of their freedom.
No one will proffer a single word.
His eyes hard as gavels, the silent policeman
agrees with the priest and his terrible Lord:
'Give them the Sword! '

At the town square there is no intervention.
No one tugs Schmerling's sleeve. No one cries
'Rescue the children! ' The air, thick with tension,
reeks with the odor of *****, and lies.

How calmly he walks, with a child in each arm:
Gut Doktor Korczak, please keep them from harm!

A fool rushes up with a reprieve in hand:
'Look Janusz Korczak—please look, you've been spared! '
No use for that. One resolute man,
uncomprehending that no one else cared
enough to defend them,
his choice is to end with them.



Ninety-Three Daughters of Israel
a Holocaust poem by Chaya Feldman
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We washed our bodies
and cleansed ourselves;
we purified our souls
and became clean.

Death does not terrify us;
we are ready to confront him.

While alive we served God
and now we can best serve our people
by refusing to be taken prisoner.

We have made a covenant of the heart,
all ninety-three of us;
together we lived and learned,
and now together we choose to depart.

The hour is upon us
as I write these words;
there is barely enough time to transcribe this prayer...

Brethren, wherever you may be,
honor the Torah we lived by
and the Psalms we loved.

Read them for us, as well as for yourselves,
and someday when the Beast
has devoured his last prey,
we hope someone will say Kaddish for us:
we ninety-three daughters of Israel.

Amen

In 1943 Meir Shenkolevsky, the secretary of the world Bais Yaakov movement and a member of the Central Committee of Agudas Israel in New York, received a letter from Chaya Feldman: 'I don't know when you will get this letter and if you still will remember me. When this letter arrives, I will no longer be alive. In a few hours, everything will be past. We are here in four rooms,93 girls ages 14 to 22, all of us Bais Yaakov teachers. On July 27, Gestapo agents came, took us out of our apartment and threw us into a dark room. We only have water to drink. The younger girls are very frightened, but I comfort them that in a short while, we will be together with our mother Sara [Sara Shnirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov Seminary]. Yesterday they took us out, washed us and took all our clothes. They left us only shirts and said that today, German soldiers will come to visit us. We all swore to ourselves that we will die together. The Germans don't know that the bath they gave us was the immersion before our deaths: we all prepared poison. When the soldiers come, we will drink the poison. We are all saying Viduy throughout the day. We are not afraid of anything. We only have one request from you: Say Kaddish for 93 bnos Yisroel! Soon we will be with our mother Sara. Signed, Chaya Feldman from Cracow.'



Miryam Ulinover Holocaust Poetry Translations

Girl Without Soap
by Miryam Ulinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As I sat so desolate,
threadbare with poverty,
the inspiration came to me
to make a song of my need!

My blouse is heavy with worries,
so now it's time to wash:
the weave's become dull yellow
close to my breast.

It wrings my brain with old worries
and presses it down like a canker.
If only some kind storekeeper
would give me detergent on credit!

But no, he did not give it!
Instead, he was stiffer than starch!
Despite my dark, beautiful eyes
he remained aloof and arch.

I am estranged from fresh white wash;
my laundry's gone gray with old dirt;
but my body still longs to sing the song
of a clean and fresh white shirt.



Meydl on Kam
Girl Without Comb
by Miryam Ullinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The note preceding the poem:
'Sitting where the night makes its nest
are my songs like boarders, awaiting flight's quests.'

The teeth of the comb are broken
A comb is necessary―more necessary than bread.
O, who will come to comb my braid,
or empty the gray space occupying my head?

Note: the second verse of 'Meydl on Kam' is mostly unreadable and the last two lines are missing.
After that, nothing could hurt me …



Yitzkhak Viner Holocaust Poem Translations

Let it be Quiet in my Room!
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let it be quiet in my room!
Let me hear the birds outside singing,
And let their innocent trilling
Lull away my heart's interior gloom…

Listen, outside, drayman's horse and cart,
If you scare the birds away,
You will wake me from my dream-play
And wring the last drop of joy from my heart…

Don't cough mother! Father, no words!
It'd be a shame to spoil the calm
And silence the sweet-sounding balm
of the well-fed little birds…

Hush, little sisters and brothers! Be strong!
Don't weep and cry for drink and food;
Try to remember in silence the good.
Please do not disturb my weaving of songs…



My Childhood
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

In the years of my childhood, in Balut's yards,
Living with my parents in an impoverished day,
I remember my hunger; with my friends I would play
And bake loaves of bread out of muddy clay…

By baking mud-breads, we dreamed away hunger:
the closest and worst of the visitors kids know;
so passed the summer's heat through the gutters,
so winters passed with their freezing snow.

Outside today all is gray, sunk in snow,
Though the roofs and the gate are silvered and white.
I lie on a bed warmed now only by rags
and look through grim windows brightened by ice.

Father left early to try to find work;
In an unlit room I and my mother stay.
It's cold, we're hungry, we have nothing to eat:
How I lust to bake one tiny bread-loaf of clay…

Balut (Baluty)   was a poor Jewish suburb of Lodz, Poland which became a segregated ghetto under the Nazis.



It Is Good to Have Two Eyes
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I.

It is good to have two eyes.
Anything I want, they can see:
Boats, trains, horses and cars,
everything around me.

But sometimes I just want to see
Someone's laughter, sweet…
Instead I see his corpse outstretched,
Lying in the street…

When I want to see his laughter
his eyes are closed forever…

II.

It is good to have two ears.
Anything I want, they can hear:
Songs, plays, concerts, kind words,
Street cars, bells, anything near.

I want to hear kids' voices sing,
but my ears only hear the shrill cries
and fear
of two children watching a man as he dies…

When I long for a youthful song
I hear children weeping hard and long…

III.

It is good to have two hands.
Every year I can till the land.
Banging iron night and day
Fashions wheels to plow the clay…

But now wheels are silent and still
And people's hands are obsolete;
The houses grow cold and dark
As hands dig a grave in defeat…

Still it is good to have two hands:
I write poems in which the truth still stands.



After My Death
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
translation by Michael R. Burch

Say this when you eulogize me:
Here was a man — now, ****, he's gone!
He died before his time.
The music of his life suddenly ground to a halt..
Such a pity! There was another song in him, somewhere,
But now it's lost,
forever.
What a pity! He had a violin,
a living, voluble soul
to which he uttered
the secrets of his heart,
setting its strings vibrating,
save the one he kept inviolate.
Back and forth his supple fingers danced;
one string alone remained mesmerized,
yet unheard.
Such a pity!
All his life the string quivered,
quavering silently,
yearning for its song, its mate,
as a heart saddens before its departure.
Despite constant delays it waited daily,
mutely beseeching its savior, Love,
who lingered, loitered, tarried incessantly
and never came.
Great is the pain!
There was a man — now, ****, he is no more!
The music of his life suddenly interrupted.
There was another song in him
But now it is lost
forever.



Chaim Nachman Bialik Holocaust Poem Translations

On The Slaughter
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
translation by Michael R. Burch

Merciful heavens, have pity on me!
If there is a God approachable by men
as yet I have not found him—
Pray for me!

For my heart is dead,
prayers languish upon my tongue,
my right hand has lost its strength
and my hope has been crushed, undone.

How long? Oh, when will this nightmare end?
How long? Hangman, traitor,
here's my neck—
rise up now, and slaughter!

Behead me like a dog—your arm controls the axe
and the whole world is a scaffold to me
though we—the chosen few—
were once recipients of the Pacts.

Executioner! , my blood's a paltry prize—
strike my skull and the blood of innocents will rain
down upon your pristine uniform again and again,
staining your raiment forever.

If there is Justice—quick, let her appear!
But after I've been blotted out, should she reveal her face,
let her false scales be overturned forever
and the heavens reek with the stench of her disgrace.

You too arrogant men, with your cruel injustice,
suckled on blood, unweaned of violence:
cursed be the warrior who cries 'Avenge! ' on a maiden;
such vengeance was never contemplated even by Satan.

Let innocents' blood drench the abyss!
Let innocents' blood seep down into the depths of darkness,
eat it away and undermine
the rotting foundations of earth.



Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.



Hear, O Israel!
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When we were the oppressed,
I was one with you,
but how can we remain one
now that you have become the oppressor?

Your desire
was to become powerful, like the nations
who murdered you;
now you have, indeed, become like them.

You have outlived those
who abused you;
so why does their cruelty
possess you now?

You also commanded your victims:
'Remove your shoes! '
Like the scapegoat,
you drove them into the wilderness,
into the great mosque of death
with its burning sands.
But they would not confess the sin
you longed to impute to them:
the imprint of their naked feet
in the desert sand
will outlast the silhouettes
of your bombs and tanks.

So hear, O Israel …
hear the whimpers of your victims
echoing your ancient sufferings …

'Hear, O Israel! ' was written in 1967, after the Six Day War.



What It Is
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is nonsense
says reason.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is a dangerous
says discretion.
It is terrifying
says fear.
It is hopeless
says insight.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is ludicrous
says pride.
It is reckless
says caution.
It is impractical
says experience.
It is what it is
says Love.



An Attempt
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I have attempted
while working
to think only of my work
and not of you,
but I am encouraged
to have been so unsuccessful.



Humorless
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The boys
throw stones
at the frogs
in jest.

The frogs
die
in earnest.



Bulldozers
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Israel's bulldozers
have confirmed their kinship
to bulldozers in Beirut
where the bodies of massacred Palestinians
lie buried under the rubble of their former homes.

And it has been reported
that in the heart of Israel
the Memorial Cemetery
for the massacred dead of Deir Yassin
has been destroyed by bulldozers...
'Not intentional, ' it's said,
'A slight oversight during construction work.'

Also the ******
of the people of Sabra and Shatila
shall become known only as an oversight
in the process of building a great Zionist power.

The villagers of Deir Yassin were massacred in 1948 by Israeli Jews operating under the command of future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's. The New York Times reported 254 villagers murdered, most of them women, children and elderly men. Later, the village cemetery was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers as Deir Yassin, like hundreds of other Palestinian villages, was destroyed.

Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon were two Palestinian refugee camps destroyed during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It has been estimated that as many as 3,500 people were murdered. In 1982, an International Commission concluded that Israelis were, directly or indirectly, responsible. The Israeli government established the Kahan Commission to investigate the massacre, and found another future Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, personally responsible for having permitted militias to enter the camps despite a risk of violence against the refugees.

Since 1967 the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions has reported more than 24,000 home demolitions... hence the 'kinship' of the bulldozers of Israel to those used to destroy Palestinian homes in Lebanon.



Credo
by Saul Tchernichovsky
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Laugh at all my silly dreams!
Laugh, and I'll repeat anew
that I still believe in man,
just as I believe in you.

By the passion of man's spirit
ancient bonds are being shed:
for his heart desires freedom
as the body does its bread.

My noble soul cannot be led
to the golden calf of scorn,
for I still believe in man,
as every child is human-born.

Life and love and energy
in our hearts will surge and beat,
till our hopes bring forth a heaven
from the earth beneath our feet.


“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."





Miklos Radnoti [1909-1944], a Hungarian Jew and a fierce anti-fascist, is perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets. His often-harrowing bio appears after his poems. The "postcard" poems were written on a death march that ended with him being executed and buried in a mass grave.

Postcard 1
by Miklós Radnóti, written August 30, 1944
translation by Michael R. Burch

Out of Bulgaria, the great wild roar of the artillery thunders,
resounds on the mountain ridges, rebounds, then ebbs into silence
while here men, beasts, wagons and imagination all steadily increase;
the road whinnies and bucks, neighing; the maned sky gallops;
and you are eternally with me, love, constant amid all the chaos,
glowing within my conscience—incandescent, intense.
Somewhere within me, dear, you abide forever—
still, motionless, mute, like an angel stunned to silence by death
or a beetle hiding in the heart of a rotting tree.



Postcard 2
by Miklós Radnóti, written October 6, 1944 near Crvenka, Serbia
translation by Michael R. Burch

A few miles away they're incinerating
the haystacks and the houses,
while squatting here on the fringe of this pleasant meadow,
the shell-shocked peasants sit quietly smoking their pipes.
Now, here, stepping into this still pond, the little shepherd girl
sets the silver water a-ripple
while, leaning over to drink, her flocculent sheep
seem to swim like drifting clouds.



Postcard 3
by Miklós Radnóti, written October 24, 1944 near Mohács, Hungary
translation by Michael R. Burch

The oxen dribble ****** spittle;
the men pass blood in their ****.
Our stinking regiment halts, a horde of perspiring savages,
adding our aroma to death's repulsive stench.



Published: “Postcard 4” was published by Poetry Super Highway in 2019 as part of their 21st Annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Poetry Issue

Postcard 4
by Miklós Radnóti, his final poem, written October 31, 1944 near Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary
translation by Michael R. Burch

I toppled beside him—his body already taut,
tight as a string just before it snaps,
shot in the back of the head.
"This is how you’ll end too; just lie quietly here,"
I whispered to myself, patience blossoming from dread.
"Der springt noch auf," the voice above me jeered;
I could only dimly hear
through the congealing blood slowly sealing my ear.

Translator's note: "Der springt noch auf" means something like "That one is still twitching."



Letter to My Wife
by Miklós Radnóti
translated by Michael R. Burch

This is a poem written during the Holocaust in Lager Heidenau, in the mountains above Zagubica, August-September, 1944

Deep down in the darkness hell awaits—silent, mute.
Silence screams in my ears, so I shout,
but no one hears or answers, wherever they are;
while sad Serbia, astounded by war,
and you are so far,
so incredibly distant.

Still my heart encounters yours in my dreams
and by day I hear yours sound in my heart again;
and so I am still, even as the great mountain
ferns slowly stir and murmur around me,
coldly surrounding me.

When will I see you? How can I know?
You who were calm and weighty as a Psalm,
beautiful as a shadow, more beautiful than light,
the One I could always find, whether deaf, mute, blind,
lie hidden now by this landscape; yet from within
you flash on my sight like flickering images on film.

You once seemed real but now have become a dream;
you have tumbled back into the well of teenage fantasy.
I jealously question whether you'll ever adore me;
whether—speak!—
from youth's highest peak
you will yet be my wife.

I become hopeful again,
as I awaken on this road where I formerly had fallen.
I know now that you are my wife, my friend, my peer—
but, alas, so far! Beyond these three wild frontiers,
fall returns. Will you then depart me?
Yet the memory of our kisses remains clear.

Now sunshine and miracles seem disconnected things.
Above me I see a bomber squadron's wings.
Skies that once matched your eyes' blue sheen
have clouded over, and in each infernal machine
the bombs writhe with their lust to dive.
Despite them, somehow I remain alive.

Miklós Radnóti [1909-1944], a Hungarian Jew and a fierce anti-fascist, is perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets. He was born in Budapest in 1909. In 1930, at the age of 21, he published his first collection of poems, Pogány köszönto (Pagan Salute). His next book, Újmódi pásztorok éneke (Modern Shepherd's Song) was confiscated on grounds of "indecency," earning him a light jail sentence. In 1931 he spent two months in Paris, where he visited the "Exposition coloniale" and began translating African poems and folk tales into Hungarian. In 1934 he obtained his Ph.D. in Hungarian literature. The following year he married Fanni (Fifi) Gyarmati; they settled in Budapest. His book Járkálj csa, halálraítélt! (Walk On, Condemned!) won the prestigious Baumgarten Prize in 1937. Also in 1937 he wrote his Cartes Postales (Postcards from France), which were precurors to his darker images of war, Razglednicas (Picture Postcards). During World War II, Radnóti published translations of Virgil, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Eluard, Apollinare and Blaise Cendras in Orpheus nyomában. From 1940 on, he was forced to serve on forced labor battalions, at times arming and disarming explosives on the Ukrainian front. In 1944 he was deported to a compulsory labor camp near Bor, Yugoslavia. As the Nazis retreated from the approaching Russian army, the Bor concentration camp was evacuated and its internees were led on a forced march through Yugoslavia and Hungary. During what became his death march, Radnóti recorded poetic images of what he saw and experienced. After writing his fourth and final "Postcard," Radnóti was badly beaten by a soldier annoyed by his scribblings. Soon thereafter, the weakened poet was shot to death, on November 9, 1944, along with 21 other prisoners who unable to walk. Their mass grave was exhumed after the war and Radnóti's poems were found on his body by his wife, inscribed in pencil in a small Serbian exercise book. Radnóti's posthumous collection, Tajtékos ég (Clouded Sky, or Foaming Sky) contains odes to his wife, letters, poetic fragments and his final Postcards. Unlike his murderers, Miklós Radnóti never lost his humanity, and his empathy continues to live on and shine through his work.

Keywords/Tags: Miklos Radnoti, Holocaust poet, Hungary, Hungarian Jew, anti-fascist, translation, mrbholo



Death Fugue
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
We’re digging a grave like a hole in the sky;
there’s sufficient room to lie there.
The man of the house plays with vipers; he writes
in the Teutonic darkness, “Your golden hair Margarete...”
He composes by starlight, whistles hounds to stand by,
whistles Jews to dig graves, where together they’ll lie.
He commands us to strike up bright tunes for the dance!

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come dawn, come midday, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house plays with serpents; he writes...
he writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...”
We are digging dark graves where there’s more room, on high.
His screams, “Hey you, dig there!” and “Hey you, sing and dance!”
He grabs his black nightstick, his eyes pallid blue,
screaming, “Hey you―dig deeper! You others―sing, dance!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house writes, “Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...” as he cultivates snakes.
He screams, “Play Death more sweetly! Death’s the master of Germany!”
He cries, “Scrape those dark strings, soon like black smoke you’ll rise
to your graves in the skies; there’s sufficient room for Jews there!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come midnight;
we drink you come midday; Death’s the master of Germany!
We drink you come dusk; we drink you and drink you...
He’s a master of Death, his pale eyes deathly blue.
He fires leaden slugs, his aim level and true.
He writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete...”
He unleashes his hounds, grants us graves in the skies.
He plays with his serpents; Death’s the master of Germany...

“Your golden hair Margarete...
your ashen hair Shulamith...”



O, Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, little root of a dream
you enmire me here;
I’m undermined by blood―
made invisible,
death's possession.

Touch the curve of my face,
that there may yet be an earthly language of ardor,
that someone else’s eyes
may somehow still see me,
though I’m blind,

here where you
deny me voice.



You Were My Death
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You were my death;
I could hold you
when everything abandoned me―
even breath.
Paul Idiaghe Dec 2020
There’s a holocaust
sweeping through my body
but i call it
love,

strap myself to its stake
as a sacrifice, relish
how its fire

dignifies me,
how the tongue-like torso  
of my scent
rolls out to taste
God.

You, with the hot air
for hair, you
with the sparking skin,
feed my flames,
you

hearteater, the mouths
on your cheeks
open wide
& I enter, as if to join
the rest of me; see

how all that is left
circulating in my veins
is your voice; my body,
now inanimate,

an instrument for your
heartsong—hear
its cinders sing like
cicadas—here

is the sequel to your stones
thrice striked.
Jonathan Jul 2013
One nightmare I had a dream
a dream of a terrible exhibit
I was at a camp where nightmares grew
a place evil and ridged
A profound impression was left on me
the simplest of all was the shoes in block 5
The simplicity of it all seemed crazy
this place called Auschwitz
where I wandered in disbelief

Imagine if such evil was in power today
with access to all our technology
Cattle for the slaughter
they would slaughter us all
their hate filled solution
for the innocent soul

Human beings are inherently cruel
this exhibit rang sadly true
Fascism with applied biology
a profound impression to say the least
The simplicity of it all seemed crazy
a room full of shoes, battered and abused
A room full of shoes from dead babies
a profound impression was left on me

This place called Auschwitz
where I wandered in disbelief
Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third ***** in Polish areas annexed by **** Germany during World War II.  Millions of men, women and children were systematically murdered in these camps.

© JDMaraccini 2013
Duane L Herrmann Oct 2020
“Take off your clothes!”
It was strange,  
but we did,  
the whole room full  
of women and girls  
watched by male guards.
“Take off all jewelry!”
Bracelet and necklace  
were easy –  
off they came.
But earrings were a problem.
I’d kept loosing them,  
and still would.
They slipped  
from my pierced ears  
so mother had  
them soldiered closed.
“Now,” she said,  
“one pair  
will last your life,”  
and they almost did  
except for now.  
They must come off  
but couldn’t.
The simple, efficient,    
final solution?
Cut my ears!
Published in, No Known Address, by Poetica Publications, poems in response to the Holocaust.
Duane L Herrmann Oct 2020
Broken glass  
filled the streets  
dignity destroyed  
and livelihoods.
Thousand years of culture burned  
in one planned
“random” riot –
government approved.
Barbarity arose  
against imagined enemies  
who were not.
Broken glass  
shattered lives  
terror reigned  
against helpless millions –
nations stood unmoving.
Never again.  Never…    
NEVER AGAIN!
Published in, No Known Address, from Poetica Publishing, poems in response to the Holocaust.
Jonathan Moya Sep 2020
The memory monster haunted Mavette on the 
platform, the gym, pass the graveyard,
scolding her for leaving the tiniest 
remains of food on her plate, scourged 
her for reading that ***** Jew, Levi.

The swastikas chased her in her dreams.
In her hole in the earth the dogs and 
stamping black boots would pass over her.

She lived with that history everyday,
escorting curious, mournful tourists
through the remnants of Auschwitz.

She knew all the ways of death, could 
recite the roll of who died and lived
over, over until the loop was her life.

Her sister in Detroit would receive 
a postcard from her every week 
with the name of a Jew gassed 
and a list of their left overs 
that were burnt or sold during 
that particular time of the war.

Her sister never wrote back
and sick of receiving this 
unsolicited ******* and 
emotional ***** would 
unceremoniously match 
every neatly written note.

Today a bunch of high school girls
were pleading with Mavette
to put them into the chamber 
and turn on the gas for they 
all wanted a great TikTok moment.

Mavette was tempted but
that was never allowed and 
the echoes of their laughter
followed her and ruptured 
into a migraine by shift’s end.

The next day, a squad of Israeli soldiers,
in a moment of exposed reflection 
after crying and singing the Hatikvah
whispered to each other
“That’s what we should do to the Arabs.”

She was only a little ashamed 
to share their thoughts,
these children and young men,
enraptured by the practical thinking
of those exposed to the simple, 
recreatable reality of the 
**** killing mechanism. 

The next day she did not rebuke
the teenage boy in the brown shirt
who said: “In order to survive 
we must become a little **** too.”

For once she wanted to escape
her hole in the ground and 
be the one with the dogs and guns,
be the one with all the power. 

if she could not escape death in her dreams
she could live by becoming death in them.
Mavette, the Angel of Death—  the idea 
comforted her nightmares and dreams.

And she took her gun and 
locked herself inside the chamber and 
asked those outside to turn on the gas.
Carlo C Gomez Nov 2020
Holy Roman Empire
and its Hakenkreuz.
I hear it in my spirit,
It starts to fall,
Flake even.

In open areas of sylvan and pastoral jazz.

On the iron plating of
Spandau, situated at
The confluence of the Havel and Spree.

Along the rails of "we the children from
Zoo Station."

Inside the books about
Katharina, the burned out postmaster.

And at no daylight, no time frame
--the Final Solution, Auschwitz.

I hear it in my spirit,
It starts to fall,
Tell me how I fear it.
Do we buy hatred for our health?
Is it really worth the taste?
Hakenkreuz[ hah-kuh n-kroits ] : a *******, especially that used as the emblem of the **** party and the Third *****.
Colin Mulligan Apr 2020
Walking down past
The Parliament buildings;
Riding past Hero’s square
In an open topped bus,
Under the watchful eye
Of Archangel Michael;
Buying tickets for the hot subway
And having to get off at the first stop
Because we were headed the wrong way;
Strolling Along the Danube
But then stopping to cry
At the bronze monument of shoes
That brought the past
Marching menacingly back
Into the disbelieving now.
SA Szumloz May 2020
Run. Run. Run
Here they come
The rampant dogs
Ready to rip off
People's skin.

Another ****** forgotten
Another person in their coffin
For just living in their skin
There's no way to win
Against supremacy.

What's next? Another Holocaust?
Another mass-genocide lost
In the media? In history books?
Because if this is how my future looks,
I don't want to live through it.

This is why we must stand up now
Before the dogs and sirens get too loud
We can't travel back in time, not like this
For there is so much good we'll miss
Unless we protest the injustices

Plaguing our society.
I just felt like writing a poem about all the things happening in our society today. Dealing with racism and supremacy.
Lieke May 2020
Flickering candles of promises, not enough
Being a spectator of these everlasting black fireworks is tough
Beams of convergent love reached an end
Smoky shadows still follow me in ways I cannot comprehend
Being the victim of unrighteous pain, I rebuff.
7 May
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