Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Today marks the occurrence of "Kristallnacht", the German "Night of Broken Glass" in 1938 that marked the beginning of the Holocaust. 14 million people were systematically killed in the Nazi Death Camps, 6 million of whom were Jewish. There is not much that I can say that would even come close to describing the horrors of those times. So, instead I will let the 1980 Nobel Prize Winner, Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz speak for me.

This poem was written in Warsaw in 1943, after the ghetto had been destroyed and replaced with "Concentration Camp Warsaw." It describes the feelings of Mr. Milosz, a Polish Christian, who witnessed all of the events in Warsaw; from the formation of the Ghetto, to the subsequent uprising by the Jews, and the final inclusion of Polish Christians as victims of the Nazi horrors, within the grounds of the former Ghetto. In looking to distinguish the "ashes of each man", he alludes to an unearthly power that can distinguish those of the victims from the ashes of the rubble. But he concludes that no power can mark the difference of the Jewish ashes from the Polish ones. It is a remarkable poem, one which could only have been written by someone who was a witness to such inhumanity. May they all Rest in Peace.

"A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto" by Czeslaw Milosz

Bees build around red liver,
Ants build around black bone.
It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,
It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam
Of gypsum, iron sheets, violin strings, trumpets, leaves, balls, crystals.
Poof! Phosphorescent fire from yellow walls
Engulfs animal and human hair.

Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,
Ants build around white bone. Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,
Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.
The roof and the wall collapse in flame and heat seizes the foundations.
Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,
With one leafless tree.

Slowly, boring a tunnel, a guardian mole makes his way,
With a small red lamp fastened to his forehead.
He touches buried bodies, counts them, pushes on,
He distinguishes human ashes by their luminous vapor,
The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.
Bees build around a red trace.
Ants build around the place left by my body.

I am afraid, so afraid of the guardian mole.
He has swollen eyelids, like a Patriarch
Who has sat much in the light of candles
Reading the great book of the species.

What will I tell him, I, a Jew of the New Testament,
Waiting two thousand years for the second coming of Jesus?
My broken body will deliver me to his sight
And he will count me among the helpers of death:
The uncircumcised.

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