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Poems about Concentration Camps

[Page 442]


by Fela Szeps, may the Lord avenge her memory

Translated into prose by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal,

with apologies for not doing justice to the rhythm and rhyme

  1. In memories of cold, hunger, slave labor –
    Drained in screams
    Are three years.
  2. At times…
    In quiet, dark nights – cold
    I am drawn to the dear image.
    Memories? Who? …
    A tear falls.
  3. Nightmares, dreams
    I sink in the abysses
    Lips lips
    Woes groans,
    And then a volcanic-scream!
    Mama! Mama! Ma… dear!

October 1944


  1. And why do I remember you so frequently today,
    Today I drive away all nightmares
    And remain only with you.
  2. And why do you appear so neglected in front of me?
    And why do you appear like a spirit,
    Which disappears straight away without comfort?
  3. In a cloudy autumn night
    We said goodbye, we were deep in thought
    And do not forget the bridge for both of us:
    The head high – we return!
  4. Since then thousands of leaves from trees have already fallen down –
    And how many flowers have blossomed in that time,
    And how many times has the sun shined:
    Where to search for you, my friend?
  5. Our life fades, youth
    In servitude – also the dawns –
    Everything around here laments,
    Gnaws in my heart. . .
  6. Over my bed of boards
    The wooden planks my chuppah…
    Inside me.
    A cold little wind blows.
    And why, little wind, do you blow in me so strongly already?
    – You know:
    I want to dream, long for, feel, love-hate, be jealous –
    And forget nothing!


Away from me, angry spirits!
Away from me, you "abyss," you "nothing"!
  1. I lie on the grass
    In hellish space –
    Stillness is my dream.
    A small wind blows, the sky blue
    The sun drinks the morning dew.
    Foolish old sky,
    Foolish old sun,
    Foolish old wind!
  2. Nothing for them
    Human pain –
    A death scream: “Line up already!”

(July 1944)

[Page 443]


A source of a stream,
A rush of wind,
A songbird trills
Not boldly in a blue twilight.
He greeted us
With a warm billow;
The cold awakened blood
The souls worn out from longing
In two months – maybe three –
You take on slave the – you hear:
The lips move tremblingly –
The eyes shiny glassy stretched out,
Masses: Dried up, torn, blackened figures
Are happy as na´ve children:
Freedom is coming – when?
Why still so long?

Will we live to see the spring sun?
Rush and hurry over!
Make your steps larger
And fly fast as eagles
With wide long fluttering wings –
And the hearts screaming full of pain!
Come liberate, oh freedom!

(December 1944)


Those arrested,
Hats off the heads,
Foreheads up high –
Be vigilant!
The hour longed for has struck –
One next to another, free people, free step.
Over our heads,
Even yesterday attacked with daggers,
The flag flutters in space
On the ship's tall mast.
The flag looks down from below:
– Are you ready, are you courageous?
– "We are ready" –
The storm brews more strongly –
With you in strength to the shores of the land [1] we come!
  1. Szeps uses the Hebrew word for land eretz, which is usually Eretz Yisroel [Palestine] in Yiddish.

The Day of the Shoah 5729 (1969)

by Tehela Lipszyc

Translated into prose by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal,

with apologies for not doing justice to the rhythm and rhyme


There was a fire in the forest
And annihilated young and old
They fell in front of my eyes
The saw sawed the remainders
None of my near ones remained
Branches blazed, roots, trees,
Everything around burnt into coal
I, entirely bare,
Tore off my right side
My wound still has not healed.

Be strong my child you are worthy of this
Send your roots deep into the earth
The last will of exterminated millions
Cannot be fenced in with the tallest fence.
The wind carries our seeds
We build our home now
And when the hour will come
There will be a rush here around the forest:
Here in the sun in the yellow sand
Our fatherland rises.

[Page 444]

Yom Kippur in the Concentration Camp[2]

by Dr. J. Nower (New York)

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal,

with apologies for ignoring rhythm and rhyme

Secretly huddled together
Like lonely oxen,
With deeply furrowed foreheads,
Eyes wildly flared up,
It seems – atrocious suspense.

They move closer and closer,
One, two, now the center glides
And all the more without end.
And they stretch out hand to hand
The lips move lightly:
No word – no movement.

Secretly, like demons,
They celebrate the day in the small synagogue,
Year in year out,
They have an accounting with the Creator.
Today is different however – than always:
Today it is not celebrated – but mourned,
Not holidayed – but lamented
And what was holy – is horrible!
It is raining already for days,
You want to pray to God, you want to say something,
Sink yourself into a prayer,
And in my ear grates: “Treblinka!”

You want to drive away burning suffering
You raise your glance up to heaven,
You begin to speak tremblingly: “I am sinful, pardon my sins,
Which I suffered from villains;
Pardon my transgressions,
Father's, mother's, small childrens'…
Pardon for everything that is borne
By your chosen people – Loving God,.”
But from the distance devil-chimneys wink
And in my ear grates: “Treblinka!”

I want to believe, Mighty God,
You are full of compassion and grace,
You will forgive our sins –
But in my ear grates:
“So many innocent lives!”…

The rain does not stop knocking on the panes,
It mixes together with the sounds of prayer;
The sky is crying, fields complain silently –
The entire autumn is crying…
It is scary outside, something wails,
You hear a sob from a child's voice –
This is the wind driving the ashes of the burned ones
Over the fields there in Auschwitz…

You drive away the gnawing marches,
Which can give you some prayers!
Can any of the dear ashes
Now come back to life!?
But the words in your throat remain congealed,
It starts to choke you on occasion…
“You will have your Yom Kippur for ever” –
You hear a fierce intermediate-voice
“Today is your Yom Kippur, and also tomorrow!” –
You hear the sound of a dead voice.

“You will not find any comfort or joy,
Your fate is tied with ours since long ago.
Our lament with thunder-echo
In your soul will storm and torture you,
The tragic consciousness will never leave you,
That you were not always alone.”

[Page 445]

The ashes of the martyrs call for revenge,
Days pass, one after another the same,
And your day of judgment will stretch without an end…
Your soul becomes full of bitterness…
…In dreams and in wakefulness you will call the murdered,
On the rack, fine – and not fallen in battle.
You will not know any rest and peace,
Both by day and by night you will be full of pain and tortures.

The shadows of the gassed and burned
Will follow you your entire life's journey,
Will remind you, that your day of judgment
Is today and tomorrow and until the end of your days! …

  1. This poem was written and read in the concentration camp. Return

I would be glad to believe in man

by Dr. J. Nower

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

A scary horror,
To believe an animal, a beast
And not a person.
After Majdanek and Treblinka,
Where living corpses, like dust,
Were scattered, on paths and roads,
I can no longer believe in man.
After the poisonous gas-chambers,
Which suffocated human souls,
You hear?: living human creation –
When I smelled from a distance,
The Smoke-nightmare, of burning bodies,
I stopped believing in man.

After the death-camps: Auschwitz, Dachau,
Where nursing children were plucked out like tufts of hair,
And German decrees
Thought out “scientific” deaths…

From human bodies were created living graves…
This disturbed my belief in man.

You will say: – human thought
Conquered mystical nature
Split the atom,
Pushed culture foremost,
That artistic beauty is powerful,
That many new ideas are elevated…

Reality is bitter,
That this is the tyranny of contemporary Sodom,
Which pulverized my faith in man.

Who then can defuse the great anger
After so many millions of holy victims,
After my blood brothers fell
From the tortures of gas and the crematorium…

Who…? Who will prove it to me?
That Raphael's paintings
Made man milder
And drew him out of the jungle.

Who…? Who will prove to me,
That with such culture,
One can be proud or honored…
Who can compare pains of mothers
During childbirth –
Brutally torn from their arms,
And the cry without tears…

The war tore something inside of me,
Which laments without a stop and deafens,
How gladly I clasped people,
And so strongly believed in man.

(From Polish: Kamieniecki)

[Page 446]

To God

by Dr. J. Nower (New York)

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

You created the lightning and the fire,
You brought forth life and expression
And enchanted millions with secrets,
A world machine with sparkling strengths
Animals and people with hearts and minds:
You with your knowledge and measure –
Answer a person with doubting faith
And a heart with bloody wounds:
Why, when you created feelings for people,
Did you also throw into life the sources
To feel them, even when they want to laugh,
Because how otherwise can an orphan laugh without his mother?
And somebody whose father was burned,
Can that person still be happy with life?
And for those, whose bodies are eaten by cannons,
Is there still joy for them in the grave?
Why is there so much sorrow tied up with life,
So few happy occasions and sadness without end?
You created a mind and a heart that should feel,
And whoever thirsts for happiness, why can he not be quieted?

And the question remains without an echo,
You do not answer the scream of millions
And you do not see souls who suffered in pain,
Who in their last expiring minutes
Glanced at the Heavens,
Your name on their lips.
Will there still come an answer from you, mighty Creator?

I wait and I wait.
At crack of day and night
And then the terrible question steals in:
I do not want to hear it.
Yet deep in my heart
Doubt creeps inside
And in my subconscious I wonder
If you are really the most powerful of all.

(From Polish: Kamieniecki)

[Page 447]

There is no forgiveness…

by Dr. J. Nower

Translated by Andrzej Ciesla

Every one of those whom the German killed
Was our brother. He lived and suffered.
In the same way as we do, he enjoyed the spring.
And he also wished to for his happy moment.
He dreamt of his happiness, of his beautiful tomorrow.
With goodness he looked at small children
He reached out his arms to life and to the people,
Or clung to his mother in emotion.

Every one of those whom the German killed
Was our dear and beloved brother,
He underwent his experiences and longings.
He sang the songs and enjoyed a flower.
But how he had suffered at the moment of his death.

Who fell from the German bloody hand,
Just think, just think how he suffered.
How terrible were those last groans.
Can we really forget all of that
And be in peace for a moment…
A morning dew will remind us of the tears of those killed
The wind will repeat their protests…

Can you hear a grey old man's groaning?
He is your father, whom the Gestapo tortures at Majdanek…
Can you hear that mournful cry of a little baby?
It is your child that you caressed and loved…
Can you hear thick cries from the underground,
And the desperate calls at night…
Can you hear the clatter of the bones, can you smell the corpses,
Can you see the dear bodies twisted in the crematoriums…

You must remember the anathema of Israel
Wherever the German foot strode,
With the bitterness in your heart you will remember the Treblinkas
Not in the name of revenge, but in the name of justice,
With your punishing hand you will reach the murderers
And you will shout: There is no forgiveness, there is no mercy…

[Page 448]

One is worth thirteen…

by Henia Gotlib

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

The water ran up and down like this.
And here a wave reaches – a silvery, gray head:
The waves shape giant dangerous hands.
And thunder and lightning screams: – “the sea is burning!
It is burning!”
Piles and piles squeeze into the circle dance –
And scream and roar: – one – remains one! …
One is worth thirteen: – one is simply one – *
I will now sing a small lamentation.
My song is composed of tears and blood
And burns, like a fire in the heart with its flame:
Thirteen Jews were forged together in a circle of chains,
And a bonfire was set in the middle.
Ordered to turn and dance – a round circle dance –
And scream and call, and pray to God,
While their God, the One, the tribes still twelve:
They have to turn around and cry: – God, help!
The God and the tribes – totaling thirteen all together –
Thus Jews, persecuted, scream out loud.
“You know already about Abram,” screams a German and laughs,
“His one and only Isaac – brought as a sacrifice.
But God thought to himself, that Isaac alone
Is too small a sacrifice, it is too small for Him;
So we are now correcting God's mistake: –
– So turn yourselves around, cursed ones, in the circle dance!
– So clank with your chains with which you are forged
And dance around the bonfire, at the sacrifice – a Jew!
– So each one of you must be an Abram –
Burn your Isaac, as you will do .later.”
Jews with silver beards are turning around –
The chains are clanking, the earth is turning.
The bonfire spits flames up to heaven, wide, far –
A large black cloud of smoke turns like a snake.
A truck comes with roars from the highway
With Jewish children, who quiver, packed together.
The children still quiver like little fish in a net.
Half dead, suffocated, beaten – with one net,
Suffocated in screams, in horrible peals,
Aching for distant breasts, mothers' milk.
Their little eyes half open, and little eyes closed.
– Is there still a God?


And each one of the thirteen drags a child, received,
You must throw it into the bonfire and scream – one!
This is after all the sacrifice, which their God wants.
– “So Juden, cry courageously, for your proud God
Lay the children in the fire like wood,
One – two – three one – two – three!
And three – across.
– Jehova is thirsty, and needs to have more…
So courageously, cursed ones, lay the children, with pride.
The Jewish children – like wood on the altar…
– The children, they are but fruit of your sins –
– So one – two, and three – four and another child.”
The chains clank, the beards shake.
The fire spits sparks: the earth is turning.
In the nearby neighborhood it was actually spring.
Three days and three nights the bonfire burned.
The roast smelled with flowers, with grass.
A stork seldom turned away his nose.
The frogs croaked as though somewhere at the river:
The branches shushed, quickly quieted.
And here comes Wednesday, the week breaks,
Thirteen still live, they are still turning around.
The chains are barely clinking, ordered: – “Be quiet!
Turn and expire.” So desires
The Lieutenant, the Eldest, from the German might.

[Page 449]

Because killing a Jew is the holiest thing.
When the sweating ones could no longer
Stand on their feet, or lift their arms,
No longer could they open their mouths, or their eyes see –
Still the last order was:
– “ Press yourselves into the ash-heap, the thirteen in number,
So that there should be smoke, and it should become quiet.
– One – two – three, – one two – three!
Push into the bonfire.”
Thirteen fall into the ashes; the ashes mix together
With bones of the children, with old people;
Trees move – it is summer in the land.
Spring left, too early, as though oppressed.
It was ashamed to meet with summer…
Not spring, not summer – a mish-mash itself,
Which nobody understands and knows
Its meaning…
The bonfire remains, named “one.”
A hill, a grave, where near a path –
Which shudders gray, in loneliness – the nights and the days.
– O, our generations! Suck in hatred for the Germans,
Stormy, seething, and be on the lookout.
One Jew remained from the thirteen,
He sings this very song to you in the evening.
He soars here with blood, and with tears, weeping.
Your child is crying here, and you yourself.
– So, listen in the evening at night and late,
Like the Shema prayer, at bedtime, in bed;
One amounts to thirteen – one – is only one.
– Get used to singing this little song also…


* one – the call of Jews to God in prayer (according to letters 1 – 8 – 4 = 13) return

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