Garland - Three Holocaust Poems for Our Time

translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (May 2011)
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(1)
STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
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By Frigyes Karinthy (1887-1938): poet & satirist.

(According to Holocaust legends, this piece was read to a group of starved, naked and brutalized civilian captives -- orthodox Jews observing strict dietary rules -- to calm and comfort them before their mass murder in a gas chamber.)
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Let’s face it, guys, we’ve been brought down
by every law and trick, that’s clear --
The jackals have picked up our scent.
Hungry crows are circling near.
 
T’was not the pack to prove the stronger,
far meaner beasts have brought us there --
Will feral dogs or humble sparrows
share the feast? I do not care.
 
We rarely raised our fists and always
halted halfway to the blow --
Was that for goodness, fear or weakness?
Or shyness? Pride? I do not know.
 
Perhaps disgust. I calm down. Amen.
I do not curse. I don’t condemn.
I’d rather be consumed by vermin
than I should ever feed on them.
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(2)
PETALS
 

By Eszter Forrai (b. 1938): poet & painter.
                                              In memoriam
                                              Janusz Korczak...*

 
You were a witness, an author,
a doctor seeking a salve,
a tender, meek protector
true to the end through danger
and even the gas –
and even the gas.
 
You wove a garland of petals
and flung it high in the sky
above the billowing ashen
smoke that withered
the human smile.
 
You rose with your petals,
rocking in slumber, draped
in a dreamlike blanket of fables.
You flew with the rows
of your dead, and the babes
became angels.

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*... Jewish-Polish physician & author (1878/9-1942). He
declined an offer of sanctuary during the Holocaust in
order to discharge his duties as director of an orphanage
in the Warsaw Ghetto. He was murdered at Treblinka
together with the children and staff of the orphanage.

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(3)
EPITAPH
 

By Dán Dalmát (b. 1934): poet, journalist & librarian.
 
Trustworthy traveller, I urge you, tell my fellow Jews
that I’ve fulfilled the role allotted me by my age.
I was marched with frozen feet along the shores of the Don,
I was pounded by hails of rifle-butt blows in Serbia’s mountains.
My broken bones at last have merged with the sane mother earth.
A gust of wind alone reminds my folks of my ghost.
And my good name is lost. And only my guards survive.
And my killers remain in charge… even of my dust.

 

THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His DEATHMARCH, Holocaust poetry translated from the Hungarian of Miklós Radnóti, has been published by The Penniless Press and Snakeskin in England.

 

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