Poetry, Essays, & Short Stories
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This section is devoted to
Poetry, Essays, & Short Stories
by Children of Survivors
If you have art, poetry, short stories, plays, etc. by survivors in your family or inspired by the fact that you are a child of a Holocaust survivor, please let me know today. Just click here and send me a message [email protected]
From Maxine Shoshanna Persaud, Toronto, Canada:
Many years ago I wrote the following words into my diary on a night when my parents were having a particularly hard time coping with life. Life, not as we see it , but as seen through the eyes of Holocaust survivors. I could not comfort them that night and so I wrote this in the hope that I could absorb some of their pain, so that they might live again, not merely exist. I wanted to communicate what they could not. Since then, I have learned that words, even the words of the survivors themselves, pale when compared to the atrocities commited against them by the nazis.
T hat time so long ago and yet,
They gassed the beaten then,
Like the hot wax of a shabbos candle
The blood stained ball of each rising sun,
formed only by G-d’s will not word,
living only on the dreams of
the two that would conceive me,
cried out in anguish,
in my invisible, outraged soul.
For those whose earthly screams,
were forever silenced,
In a world where few can still hear
their tortured echoes.
Crimes against humanity never die,
only the victims.
And we all suffer the legacy.
The following three poems are from Izzy Nelken:
- Yom HaSho’a 1996
- Yom HaSho’a 1996
By Izzy Nelken
Y om HaSho’a in Israel
I remember it so well
Going back twenty two years
Re-living some of my worst fears
We had to turn the TV off
So my mom wouldn’t be reminded of…
Of what was she not supposed to be reminded?
What was the secret that was so well guarded?
My parents were with me at home
but where were mom’s parents? how come she was alone?
There were stories of a horrible train
which mom told with a great deal of pain
I knew that her parents came to a terrible fate
That had something to do with bigotry and hate
As a kid I learned not to ask
which was not always an easy task
Until this very day, I’m missing details
there are only a few, very sketchy tales
So I would go on to school
dressed up like a fool
In Khaki shorts and a white shirt
which had so much starch that it actually hurt
US kids took turns standing by a Yahrzeit candle
each one for a little while
back then, in Israel,
that was the style
I tried my best to look sad
as I stood by the candle
But my friends would tell jokes
that were too funny to handle
So I would start to smile
but just for a while
Pretty soon my shift was done
and now it was time to really have some fun
Some other kid took my place
he stood by the candle and made a serious face
So I tried to make him laugh
by saying all sorts of funny stuff
Looking at all of this now
I am beginning to see how
The Nazis tried to destroy the flame and the spark
and they almost managed to make it totally dark
But somehow our parents managed to survive
and they made it to the free world alive
We were all kids of the second generation
and our parents brought us to the Israeli nation
I went to a Hebrew school with a Jewish “in crowd”
And of that, we can all feel very proud
Standing by a candle so many years later
I feel the tears which were masked by laughter
By Izzy Nelken
Trying to grasp Elie Wiesel’s “Night”
It’s an internal fight
I read two pages, leave and come back
imagine the gallows around someone’s neck
Elie’s father was well respected
it didn’t help him when he was “selected”
whatever they had was taken away
and there was nothing you could do or say
My grandfather had a lot of clout
but our entire family was wiped out
he had a factory and property and bank accounts
today, I am filled with doubts:
a man works all his life to collect
then, one day it is taken, so what’s the effect?
“Men to the left, women to the right”
mother and sister are soon out of sight
this happened to our parents but could have been us
and yesterday, we made such a fuss
should we eat Italian or Chinese?
they survived on snow, so please…
sitting in Chicago, my belly is full
they weren’t so lucky, under Nazi rule
you stand in a group of five
and try to survive
A few days after Elie’s operation
the Nazis announce an evacuation
should they leave or should they stay?
what’s the right answer, who can say?
they must decide
there is no place to hide
The other day I went for a run
on the Lakeshore, under the sun
with a Walkman and a bottle of Evian
what can I say, it was a lot of fun
But can you imagine running all night
the SS guard has you in his sight
the machine gun is fired
if you get tired
Elie slept just above his dad
the Nazi hit him on the head
and the next day, he was dead
This is very real
and also un-imaginable
there’s a lesson here
but it’s so intangible
What’s important in life?
my family and my wife
education, career and financial success
who are we trying to impress?
But in times of extreme strife
an extra blanket may save your life
all you want is soup and bread
and a place to rest your head
We live very good here
and it won’t disappear
This I try to believe
so I can live
a normal life
with my wife
By Izzy Nelken
The ghosts of Auchwitz are chasing me again
just like they did when I was ten
I sat with in the kitchen with my mom
trying to speak, I was quite dumb
Tried to listen to what she had to say
wished it was just another regular day
and now its midnight and I am drunk
smoked a cigar and smell like a skunk
what is the meaning of life, I try to figure
with the skills of a mathematician and all its rigor
Menke Kalisch, Kopel Reich
those are important figures in my psych
I can feel them fight
with all their might
“Torah is important, everything else is fake”
No! More dough you got to make
Mom would wake up every morning
and sort of go into mourning
Where is her family and Galanta, she tried to shout
Do you know what this is about?
Lisa lies next to me. so innocent
never had to deal with anything indecent
wish I could be like her
and think that life is fair
But I think of my uncle, whom I never met
but can’t seem to be able to forget
and both of my grandparents
and their families
rolling in their grave
whom no one wanted to save
From Jackie Ruben:
I am a psychology graduate student. My grandmother is Hungarian and, although she left Hungary right before the war, she lost many relatives including her parents and two siblings. I wrote the following personal essay at the beginning of this year. Would you pleasepost it in the Cybrary?
In My Grandmother’s Kitchen
By Jackie Ruben
I am in my grandmother’s kitchen, inapartment 8B on Avenida del Libertador, Buenos Aires. It’s the late 1970s. I’m a child and I sit on that old blue table where my own mom once must have sat at my age to eat, as I will, a feast of “chicken paprikash” with “tarhonya” noodles, that old family recipe handed down for so many generations and which marries so well with that rich chocolate roulade, “kalacs” that my grandma has made for dessert.
What do we talk about, as my grandma chops the onions, the green peppers, the tomatoes, and starts to saute them at low heat?…. I have a mental picture of my beautiful grandmother, ever vigilant, making sure that the onions are translucent enough, yet not burnt. Everything’s all right….
“Mami, where are your parents?”
Something changes…Can my little child memories crystallize?
“They’re dead….,”a whisper,”…. they were killed….”
She sets her wooden spoon down and stares out the window, her left hand touching her cheek and covering her mouth, as I’ve often seen her do since that first memory, so many years ago.
“Were they killed with a sword?”
No answer… What’s happened here? I’ve never seen my grandmother cry… herbright green-grey eyes become water as I approach her, wandering, fearing whatever it is, what the shadow, the terrible thing is…
And she hugs me and whispers in my ear, “No, my ‘muggetcita,’ my little flower, no…”
Later that day, my mother would explain that my grandmother’s parents, her sister Irenke, her brother Gyula, his wife Etush, their children and many more family members, had been “gassed,” whatever that meant, at a place called Auschwitz. I learned the meaning of that name way before I could spell…I also learned soon enough not to ask my grandmother about her family too often. She didn’t even talk with my mom and my aunt about those things. Although I was curious, I didn’t want my Mami to cry. Words floated in low, somber tones, though, and I heard them all…”Nazis…SS…Zyklon B…concentration camps….” And I remembered.
Holocaust…The word that symbolized my family’s taboo subject.To me, it is a word that encompasses it all, yet will never be enough. It is a word that has followed me throughout my life. It is also the wound of my heart that will never heal.It is, in short, my family legacy–one that, I have sworn to myself, I will pass down to the generations–the most important lesson to teach my kids.
The meaning of the word “Holocaust” embodies, more than anything, the biggest lesson, the most important present that my grandmother has given me. She has taught me, through her pain, that we must never forget. Sixty years have not eased the crack in her soul.When my grandmother thinks of her Hungarian family, she is my age again, timeless, finding out again and again and again that she will NEVER see her family again.
And I have turned my twenty-three years of learning on her. We went to Hungary last year, she and I, as well as my parents. For her, it was the first time she would return in close to sixty years.
We went to Mezocsat, the town of her youth. We found the Jewish Cemetery and there, amidst the overgrown weeds and fallen tombstones, we saw the wall with the names of the town’s Jews that had been taken. There are no tombs to visit… there are only names and ages on a wall, unchanging, like the faces on the photographs…
For the first time in my life, my dead family materialized… I saw then, that those names had belonged to REAL people. I felt their presence, our link… people who were not just my grandma’s family who had been murdered in the Holocaust, but MINE as well.
My family too had been murdered.
And although we had not tombstones, you see, we did put a little stone at the wall, for each of the “Schwarcz” listed and for the rest of the Mezocsat Jews, whose memories only survive as names on these hard, cold walls, and as memories in those old folks who knew them and those young folks who, like me, refuse to forget.
When I went back home to visit during the winter break, the few photos left of my family became oh-so-precious.I laser-copied them.
Irenke, my grandmother’s sister, you and I were born on the same date… I have your Yiddish name, Bluma… and, like you, I like to cook…
“Oh sons of Irenke,” I wrote in my photo album,” Oh, children of Gyula, where are your sweet little faces? Sweet Irenke and Etush, you’re frozen in time forever. Beautiful Jewish women. Innocent Jewish women. Where’s Hermina, my mother’s “Mami,”-your body wasn’t allowed to follow its natural course neither in life nor in death. Your spirits surround me, your eyes haunt me. I look at your hands in these old photos but can’t reach across death and time to touch them… I can see them becoming ashes… WHY?”
“Irenke, you haunt me, sister, grand-aunt…Twin: we were born years apart, yet on the same date. Who were you? What were your dreams? Beautiful photos don’t reveal the horror. Bluma, I didn’t know you but you won’t be forgotten. You weren’t given a chance to have your own children, my cousins too have been murdered. I give you my descendants. They’ll remember you, though it isn’t the same, is it?….Would you have taught your little ones how to make “kalacs” and recite the “Sh’ma” like my “Mami”-your “Margitka” taught me? We’ll never know….”
There are six empty pages in my photo album that will never be filled with the photos never taken of my murdered family’s descendants.
There are six million empty album pages that will never be filled.
There are, on the other hand, survivors. They can help fill some of the pages… they are old, but like my grandmother, they remember well… and they can help us write the book about Shoah that can never be completely filled.
From Jessica Hollander:I wrote this poem when I was in my first year of high school, at age 14. I submitted it in a poetry writing contest in southern California and won first place for it. there was a special ceremony and Mel Mermelstein was present to give my award. Here it goes….
There Lies Hope
By Jessica Hollander
With one great swipe of his unmerciful hand,
He led us destruction.
With one great tear streaming from my eye,
I send myself back in time to those painful years.
A time when the world was ablaze with a burning hatred.
A hatred so threatening and vicious,
Against a humble people so full of innocence.
I question myself, gazing above into the clear blue sky.
Expecting an answer, but no answer comes.
With each fresh tear, I struggle with my burden
Until one night in my dream
The answer is revealed.
A dream bursting with hope.
It was hope that took my people by the hand
An led us into a new world of promise.
We are fragile no more.
Within my people there is a strength.
A strength born out of hope
Wretchedness and despair abound no more.
We are here, for deep within us there lies hope.
I received the following poem from From Diane Schmolka:
In All Those Camps For every particle of dust there was a name Not only when the sunlight reveals their properties floating in air that it is a phase through which they energize It is in the pulse of non-perceived awareness that their power utters every word in the primeval language once spoken in time. There are those I love dearly who do not believe there is any gift created by suffering loss. It is only when they are ready to let their arms brush against minute mouldered remains settled on cot posts, door jambs hospital beds and barbed-wire fences; when they journey to places wherein loved ones embrace them they can know joy from severed attachment I have watched them in their sleep When they dream, I believe tortured relatives sprinkle symbolice speech in pantomimes denied any sense in mornings Like ash, feelings well up from any past time as dead loved ones create moments the way a cat quietly arrives on what you’re reading to claim you for their own. I know when I awake on nights wherein I see no moon that stars will always shine from bones pulverized in all those camps I know now I can sing Kaddish only when charoset has once stuck in my throat.
by Diane Schmolka. first published in “The Ottawa Unitarian” Summer,1995