Perhaps the most important reason to continue to remember the Holocaust is to honour the memory of the millions of innocent people whose lives were cut short. In this poem, written in August 1942 in response to deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka extermination camp, Władysław Szlengel encouraged readers to remember the humanity of the victims by focussing on the fate of an apparently unremarkable Jewish mother.
For heroes – poems, rhapsodies!!!
For heroes the homage of posterity,
their names engraved on plinths
and a monument of marble.
For valiant soldiers – medals!
For soldiers’ deaths a cross!
Conjure the glory and suffering
into steel, granite and bronze.
Legends will remain after the great,
that they were colossal,
The myth will congeal and – become
But who will tell you, future generations,
not about bronze or mythic themes –
but that they took her – killed her,
and that she is no more …
Was she good? Not really –
she often quarrelled after all,
slammed the door, scolded…
but she was.
Pretty? She was never pretty,
even before her hair silvered.
Wise? Well, quite ordinary, not stupid…
But… she was.
Understand – she was, and now when she is not,
every corner here has evil eyes
and immediately sees that she is no more.
Władysław Szlengel was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.
Photo: a Jewish woman during a deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Leopold Page Photographic Collection
Poem: Michał M. Borwicz (ed.), Pieśń ujdzie cało... Antologia wierszy o Żydach pod okupacją niemiecką (Centralna Żydowska Komisja, 1947)