Robust Women by András Mezei
Translated from the Hungarian & Edited by Thomas Ország-Land (November 2013)
THE author of these poems (1930-2008) was a child survivor of the Budapest Ghetto who took part in the recovery and defence of Israel as a teenager, and returned to Hungary eventually to emerge as one of the dominant voices guiding the country’s post-communist reconstruction after the demise of Soviet power. His poetry will take centre place in ceremonies marking Hungary’s Holocaust Memorial Year in 2014.
I. A CHOICE
When the children were torn from their mothers,
and the ghetto was searched for tiny creatures
left in hiding, and the cries and the screams
were drowned by loudspeakers blaring out lullabies,
and the children were crammed into lorries, a German
soldier turned to one pleading mother,
How many children have you?
and she replied, I have three --
then he said, You may take back one of them
and helped her on board the vehicle
to choose one, as three pairs of eyes lit up
and three pairs of arms expectantly opened
towards her: Mother, take me, me, me!
…An eyewitness recalls that she
declined the choice. She left alone.
How many children have you?
She informs God: I have three!
II. BLUE EYES
They who ravished the robust women
among my forbears, they our tormentors
still live within me to this day
with the spilled blood of our menfolk.
So many Franks and Slavs and Mongols,
brave blades of the pogroms, lurk in my bones
yet, by the right of the mothers, the Jew
stares back at them from my face.
They've changed my brown eyes into blue,
and made my curly dark hair blond,
that rabble of all Teutonic Europe
who gather and bustle and stir in my cells,
they who have dressed my bones in their skin,
their white skin soft like fancy linen –
But as the rabbis have blessed the fate
of the Jewish people in the offspring,
and brought them up, despite the rapes,
from age to age as Jewish children,
still the murderers have blue eyes
and blue eyed also are the victims.
III. ROBBERY, NAKED
You won’t be needing these, said he,
and flung my mother’s photograph
among his booty, and my shirt.
I still retained heaped on my blanket
the things I had to bring: a mess-tin,
my boots and socks, warm underclothes,
a bar of shaving-soap – and I had
that irremovable mark on my finger
in the place of my looted wedding ring.
IV. DEPORTED WOMEN
Deported women, still they are sitting
in that great timber granary
on their few precious, wretched objects
near Köszeg, to this very day,
where my old mother defecated
as she sat there, and where the straw
stuck to my little sister's poor
urine-infected private parts,
and where my older sister sang
softly, eyes closed, hands on her ears
and squeezing her vagina tight –
still sitting in that great granary.
Inside, a baby crying. Outside, the search,
the trampling boots. The fugitives petrified.
Then someone hands a pillow to the mother.
The babe falls silent, silent. Silent!
The people stripped off their garments.
They did not weep. They did not shout.
They did not beg for mercy.
A gray-haired woman standing by
the freshly dug hole in the ground
cuddled a baby in her arms – she
sang for it, tickled it, and the child
rejoiced in rings of laughter.
VII. BLANCHE SCHWARCZ
Her elder son has emigrated
to Palestine. Her daughter Leah
has married in America.
But she, Blanche Schwarcz in the kitchen
with war-time lemon-tea substitute,
some goose-fat treasured in the pot
and brown bread on the table
(she is still busy day by day)
keeps spying through the curtain of
the years down to the dusky portal,
keeps glancing up to the square blue sky
framed by the ventilation shaft,
that small blind window on her final
residence in this world.
She stands outside by the well-wrung mop
that she has placed before her threshold,
she goes on rinsing the long red passageway
to welcome a new arrival.
She would never leave the ghetto
not till her younger son returns
...although she knows he will not.
VIII. IN THEIR PLACE: A DAUGHTER
My daddy's lost children: Eve and little Joe.
My mummy's lost children: Stevie and little Paul.
My daddy's marriage, a legendary love match.
But mummy mourned at every river – I know
she wished to die.
My daddy declared: his parents' graves lay here.
And mummy declared that people should not forsake
their parents' final resting place.
And thus they merged their equal losses, although
at first it was only
beneath the canopy,
for the law took its time to confirm
the death of mummy's husband and daddy's wife.
Mummy wanted no children
after Stevie and little Paul;
but after Eve and little Joe,
my daddy yearned for babies more and more.
That is why I am here. I was named
after daddy's late daughter. I live in their place.
My mourning father was 54 years of age
and my mother was 42
when I was born.
THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His next Book: The Survivors (Smokestack Press, England, 2014).
IMAGES of András Mezei: Courtesy of Gábor Mezei
To comment on these poems, please click here.
To help New English Review continue to publish original and interesting poetry such as this, please click here.
If you enjoyed this article and want to read more by Thomas Ország-Land, please click here.
Join leaders of the American Middle Eastern community to endorse
Donald J. Trump
for President of the United States
and spend an evening with his foreign policy advisors featuring
Dr. Walid Phares
and other surprise campaign guests.
Monday October 17th
Omni Shoreham Hotel
2500 Calvert Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20008
cocktails at 6pm - dinner at 7pm
Business casual attire
$150 per person / $1500 per table
Sponsored by the American Mideast Coalition for Trump