Lost in the Shoah

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.

 

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