What is death?
A last memory in the throes of fevered nightmares
Stiff and twisted bodies tumbling out of a cattle car
Hungry lips torn away from a mother’s bosom too soon
Two sips of water not given after a day’s hard labor
The stench of unwashed nakedness in the snow
And charcoal-scented Dial bars from Dachau soapworks
What is pain?
Hand-knitted sweaters, pulled apart and shredded for yarn
Stars of David that fray at the edges a little more each day
Whips that crack on the flesh and bleed the soul
Scraps of moldy bread that are never enough
Pillars of black smoke rising up in the distance
Weary hands that clear corpses and build warplanes
What is hope?
A wedding ring hidden under the false bottom of a clay cup
Pages of a half-burnt Siddur read stealthily each Shabbat
Shared warmth under a scratchy, old blanket
The not-yet-forgotten taste of kugels and blintzes
An overbaked pretzel stolen from the kitchen garbage
A Yiddish tune with Roma words sung under the breath
What is faith?
A kiss stolen outside the gates of Buchenwald
Tears shed in the cabins of every kindertransport
Diaries found, preserved, published, and wept over
Prayers said, denied, delayed, and answered
And graves with markers but no bodies in them
Loved ones lost in the Shoah, kept alive in our thoughts.
What is our truth?
We live. We mourn. We remember
Note: Shoah is the Hebrew word of the Holocaust. The title of this poem comes directly from someone I care very much about. She lost her father in the Shoah and on his gravestone, are the words Lost in the Shoah. Today, we begin the commemoration of Yom HaShoah for the millions murdered by the Nazis. Jews, Roma people, Communists, Intellectuals, and scores of others. However, we would do well to remember that out of the 11 million murdered, 6 million were Jews and at least 500,000 were Roma. The Nazi crimes against the Jews and the Roma were racially motivated and needless to say, their fates paralleled each other’s through the war years. Also, if you are reading this, please do not politicize this commemoration of the Holocaust by bringing the Israel-Palestine conflict into it. This is not the place to discuss it. If we were to hold a one-minute silence for every victim of the Holocaust, we’d have to be silent for eleven and a half years. In light of that painful truth, I request you to be respectful.