I will never forget the story
I was never supposed to know—
Nor was my mom, who as a child
Overheard some distant relative of hers
After a couple shots of vodka
In a large family get-together brag
About his war-time heroic deeds
Of cleansing the country from the Jews;
“I’d take a kid and throw him up in the air
And shoot him. By the time
He hit the ground, he was already dead…”
I can see him grab the baby from the crib,
A helpless bundle, unsuspecting of such evil,
See him perform his act of murder
In the eyes of the screaming mother…
No, I will never forget the story
I heard as a child, long ago,
When my mom amidst her never-ending chores
Instead of fairy tales would talk to me
About life, the family and the war,
About her father, who in a Nazi train,
Bound to where no one had come back from,
By accident discovered a loose board
And before anyone had the wit
To realize what that could mean,
He pushed himself outside
And quickly hid under the train,
Firmly pressing his body against the rails…
Who knows how many horror seconds
He had to count before the dusk fell
On the station and he could steal away.
How could I ever forget the story
I heard by my grandmother told
About the times when during the war
Betrayed by her own cousin
She awoke one night with someone
Thumping on the door.
(And they almost started to believe
They had survived the worst!)
The overcrowded cattle wagons
With every turn over of heavy wheels
Crushed her dreams to study
And maybe one day to teach,
Her teenagerish romance—
Oh that blue eyed curly chap
With whom she loved to dance!—
Her very life that was worth nothing,
One among the agony of thousands others
Buried under the cover of Siberian snow.
She says it was so unimaginably cold
That even icicles hanging down
Their log cabin’s ceiling
Would never melt.
I will always remember the story
I heard about my grandpa told
How famished and frozen stiff
They, ragged soldiers, in the dead of winter,
Came across a good-hearted peasant
Who shared the best he had with them—
Jars of honey, honey dripping from aluminum spoons,
Luscious and sweet beyond what their tongues,
Unaccustomed to such luxury, could lick…
They gorged themselves on the amber sweet—
Who knows when someone else will offer anything to eat?—
Until all of them were poison-sick
With honey oozing from the pores of their skin,
And vomiting the precious treat…
Afterwards, I heard, my grandpa
Would not even touch the sweets.
I will never forget these stories—
How could I?
How could anyone even fall asleep,
When against the dark screen of night
All these stories come alive
And slowly flow before the eyes?
History does not ask names,
Preferences and point-of-views
And the most unlikely find themselves
Saying things and acting in ways
That otherwise they would have never dared.
But where, O God, in history do I look for you?
No one telling their stories
Gave you credit, nobody blamed.
I don’t know if in the midst of horror
They remembered how to pray.