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 a hearty welcome ...
Consider: is this a “man”
who slogs through mud,
who has never known peace,
who fights for scraps of bread,
who lives at another man's whim,
who at his "yes" or his "no" lies dead.
Consider: is this a “woman”
shorn 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.
Rehearse them to your children,
or may your houses softly crumble
and disease render you equally as humble
so that even your offspring avert their eyes.
Primo Michele Levi (1919-1987) was an Italian Jewish chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor. He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays, and poems, but is best known for If This Is a Man, his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in ****-occupied Poland. It has been described as one of the best books by one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His unique work The Periodic Table was shortlisted as one of the greatest scientific books ever written, by the Royal Institution of Great Britain. Levi's autobiographical book about his liberation from Auschwitz, The Truce, became a movie with the same name in 1997. Keywords: Holocaust, poem, Italian, translation, man, mud, woman, bald, nameless, houses, homes, bread, eyes, womb, empty, void, frigid, lifeless, horror, horrors, hearts, write, etch, engrave, inscribe, children, offspring, disease, avert, reject