Poems and Poetry

holocaust poems

She Survived the Nazi Terror | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

She survived
on a “Children’s Transport”
to England.
But the memory of her mother’s
panicked attempt
to pull her
from the moving train
has never left her.

And the mother?
As the SS soldier
viciously shoved her
on a cattle car
bound – she was told –
to the “East,”
she remembered her own
anguished attempt to keep the child
and was grateful
that the daughter would survive.

Eighth Avenue | A Poem by Philip Lawrence

Five-thirty p.m., 1985,
A crowded bus.
The passengers generate heat as
The men stand round-shouldered
Reading newspapers, and we all
Sway to the rhythm of the city traffic.
I scan the rows for an empty seat and
I angle past the others, ignoring all,
Except for one.
He stoops under a worn gray hat,
An overcoat overwhelms his slight body
And his dark eyes glance from row to row
With urgency as the bus halts.
A seat opens and the little man
Moves toward the vacancy.
I am closer, and I will have it before him.
The man grips the overhead bar for balance.
He is short and his coat sleeve slides
To his elbow and faded blue numbers
Appear on his forearm.
They are clear enough.
I stand motionless as he slides by me.
There is room for him to pass, but
He steps sideways.
He does not look up.
He says nothing.

Finding Our Humanity | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

I am young – only 23
a German student
with a history
like all Germans
of a past
which many want to forget.
Turkish immigrants came to us
in the 60’s and 70’s.
Today second and third generations
feel they are Germans.

My best friend is both a Muslim
and German.
Together we watch as Syrian refugees
enter our country.
And we are proud as these
Seekers of asylum
from a merciless dictator
find refuge here.

Tolerance and acceptance of the “other”
makes us human again –
separating us
from a time
when we Germans forgot
our humanity.

A Choiceless Choice | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

They had managed to escape Vienna
before the Nazis marched in.
Thanks to the support of an American cousin
they settled in Washington Heights —
a Manhattan haven for Jewish refugees
Others were not so lucky.
Kurt, the couple’s 5 year-old son,
bore the name of the grandfather
In Treblinka he was gassed.

Adjustment was not easy: they needed jobs
They were lucky: he a butcher; she a seamstress
Fluency in English not a necessity

We now meet Kurt at 20 in 1965
and the girlfriend Gerorgann,
who was the love of his life.
She was mature, tender, optimistic and kind.
The two spent hours talking on the phone,
Taking long walks in the neighborhood
Eating pizza at the local hangout,
Doing homework in one of their homes

One summer evening they made love.
And everything changed.
Theirs would be a love, growing stronger
each day.

So what was the problem
of two people in love?
For In the eyes of the parents
the love could not be
Their despair had no bottom.
How could this be true?
The boy’s Jewish soul
was bound to the suffering of many.
How could Kurt forget?
His very name tied to the Uncle who perished.

The family held council… uncles, aunts cousins alike
A mafia-like meeting of gun-toting gangsters?
No guns, but the weapon was GUILT
All denounced the relationship
with passionate conviction
An affront to the very core
of their Jewish past, present and future.

Kurt was given a choice: keep the girl and lose the family
A choiceless choice
He chose the family

Return to Washington Heights | A Poem by Richard Kalfus

Is it self-indulgence to think
our personal life-stories
Have relevance for others?
Are we perhaps only healing ourselves?
when we reach into the reservoir
of a past life-altering experience?
Can we serve this-up to others who
Must and should empathize with us?

So it is when I reach into my Holocaust past.,
marked forever by these events.

Nowhere is this more evident
than in Washington Heights,
Manhattan’s upper west side neighborhood
where the largest number of German Jewish Holocaust
survivors in America lived and tried to rebuild their lives.
But never forgetting the loved ones left behind as
a painful testament to the guilt that hovers over them
by their very act of survival

I have returned to Washington heights
to the Washington Height’s streets of 22 years ago.
I marvel again at the beauty of Fort Tryon Park
which majestically overlooks the splendid Hudson River.
I hear German accented English, even Yiddish and again,
as in my childhood, am struck by the humor of many New York Jews,
mixing Americanisms with German regionalism.
(The Manheim German is so very different from that of the Berliner)
I see 80 year-old Mrs. Dingfelder from a small Black Forest farm
sitting, in in a lawn chair, in front of her 6th floor apartment
building, quite lost.
(memories of the trauma of the past or simply old age?)
I hear ghetto blasters in front of her, as if they were not attached
to the new
Spanish speaking resident passers-bye.
There goes Mr. Marks entering the kosher bakery.
I need not go inside to know what he is ordering:
the family’s braided Chale for the Sabbath.
I continue to be touched by Mr. Simon walking to Saturday services,
without money and with his apartment keys hanging from his belt.

On Friday services, I stand with others who chant the Kaddish,
mourning for the dead.
I– for the grandparents who died in Gurs, a French Nazi
Concentration Camp.

I– for the Communist uncle shot in the streets of Karlsruhe by Nazi thugs.
I for the Polish uncle, sister-in-law and their two young children
who died in a cattle car on the road to Auschwitz.

I finally enter the memory of our old apartment with a view of the
majestic George Washington Bridge–
a symbol of the freedom America accorded my parents and me as their
who could live, without the threat of starvation, isolation and gas

I am home… and yet a home never quite released from memories of
those Jewish immigrants, torn from their comfortable Jewish/German
faced with the challenge of rebuilding lives in New York’s
Washington heights
and raising a son with only them as a connection to family lost.