This photograph shows Jewish men in the Kraków Ghetto chopping up furniture for use as firewood. The mood of despair in the ghettos caused by overcrowding, disease, and lack of food and fuel increased in the spring of 1942 with the news of mass shootings of Jews in the Soviet Union and the first deportations to extermination camps in Poland. It was at this time that the Yiddish writer Mordechai Gebirtig wrote this poem in the Kraków Ghetto.
Springtime in the trees, in the fields, in the forest,
But here, in the ghetto, it's autumnal and cold,
But here, in the ghetto, it's cheerless and bleak,
Like the house of a mourner – in grief.
Springtime! Outside, the fields have been planted,
Here, around us, they've sowed only despair,
Here, around us, guarded walls rise,
Watched like a prison, through the darkest night.
Springtime, already! Soon it will be May,
But here, the air's filled with gunpowder and lead.
The hangman has ploughed with his bloody sword
One giant graveyard – the earth.
Mordechai Gebirtig was shot in the ghetto when deportations from Kraków to Bełżec extermination camp began in June 1942.
Photo: a group of Jews chop up furniture for use as fuel in the Kraków Ghetto, 1941; Archiwum Państwowe w Krakowie/Archiwum Dokumentacji Mechanicznej/YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, courtesy of Natalia Rothenberg (public domain)
Poem: Mordechai Gebirtig, Undzer shtetl brent! (Moreshet, 1967)