As Germany and its allies retreated in 1944, Jews were forcibly marched from the camps towards those areas of central Europe still under Axis control. Miklós Radnóti was a Hungarian Jewish poet who had been forced to serve in a slave labour battalion in Ukraine and Yugoslavia. As his battalion was driven back to Hungary, he scribbled poems in a notebook. This was his final entry.
I fell beside him and his body turned over,
taut already as a string before it snaps.
Shot in the back of the head. – "And that's how you'll end too" –
I whisper to myself – “just lie quietly”.
Patience flowers into death now.
“This one still twitches," I heard above me.
Through the filthy blood drying on my ear.
Days after writing this poem, Miklós Radnóti suffered the fate he had foreseen. His last poems were discovered in his coat pocket when his mass grave was exhumed after the war. The photograph shows a modern memorial to him in Budapest.
Photo: memorial to Miklós Radnóti, Budapest; Holocaust Educational Trust
Poem: Miklós Radnóti, Összes versei és műfordításai (Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1969)