Holocaust Commemoration Ceremonies
Often it is important to choose a particular theme for a commemoration service. In most cases this will be the same theme as chosen for Holocaust Awareness Week. Examples of themes in the past include :
Children of the Shoah
The theme chosen for a commemoration is more than just a topic that ties ideas together.
A theme sends a clear message to the audience.
Focussing on Resistance or Righteous Gentiles on hand allows the audience to take something positive away from the commemoration. On the other hand however it takes statistically minor aspects of the Shoah and transforms them in the minds of the audience to central elements.
Focussing on different people killed in the Second World War or other genocides, is often of interest to the broader audience but it also downplays the ‘uniqueness’ of the ‘Shoah’. Not only is this a very complicated issue but may also be found to be offensive to segments of the audience.
Venue is very important to a Holocaust commemoration. Depending on the size of the audience you are expecting an appropriate venue should be decided upon. A full room is more effective than a larger half empty one.
Effective ceremonies often involve darkness, visual displays and audio-visual equipment.
The venue should be accessible to guests, speakers and familiar to your target audience.
Clearly the main language of the ceremony should be in English in order that the vast majority of the audience can fully understand the ceremony. However it is worth considering the use of Jewish languages as part of the ceremony. (This may be considered with or without translation)
Yiddish : The majority of the Jews of Europe spoke Yiddish. It was not merely just a language but a culture. As the Nazis also endeavored to eradicate the Jewish culture, the use of Yiddish in a ceremony sends a strong and clear message.
Hebrew : The use of Hebrew language also provides a strong message about the Jewish people today. As the language of the modern State of Israel Hebrew has become a symbol of Jewish present and Jewish future.
Most communities will have a good pool of speakers to choose from. There are generally three types of speakers that address Holocaust commemoration functions as key note speakers.
a) Holocaust Survivors
There is no better testament to the Shoah than Holocaust survivors themselves. For many people it will be their first encounter with the atrocities of the Shoah and can leave a lasting impact. It is also important to remember that this is the last generation that will be able to have direct contact with Holocaust survivors and that it is the responsibility of this generation to pass on the legacy of the victims and the survivors.
When asking a survivor to speak it is important that someone has heard them speak before. Some survivors have difficulty speaking a clear English. Also it is difficult to ask someone to tell their ‘story’ and then restrict their time. Sometimes it is possible to ask a survivor to focus on a particular theme or particular aspect of their experience. When asking a survivor to speak it is important to emphasize that you are not asking for a history lesson but a personal testimony.
Often at University level, people want to learn something about a specific topic. If they are attending a lecture or ceremony at lunchtime they want to feel as if they have gained something from the experience. Pick your lecturer carefully and you should select the topic that you want them to speak on. This maybe on their area of expertise or maybe on a more general topic.
c) Community Members
There are several members of the established Jewish communities who can speak at functions. These people have good message to share and it also gives them a chance to see some of the work that your union is doing.
Visual representation of the Shoah can add significant impact to a ceremony. There are no shortage of available resources.
Movies (or short extracts from movies), Slides, Posters, Handouts, Overheads, Power Point Presentations are just a few ideas for a commemoration service.
Text of Ceremony
A ceremony should have a flow that ties all pieces together. Consideration should be made to using poetry, short testimonies and quotes within a ceremony in order to create a flowing service. The use of primary sources within the ceremony adds authenticity and impact to the overall commemoration ceremony.
As a Jewish ceremony there are certain religious elements that should be included in the commemoration. The Yizkor Memorial Prayer and ‘El Male Rachamim’ are two prayers that should be included. Anyone can be asked to recite these prayers. It may be a good opportunity to invite a communal religious leader to be a part of your unions activities.
Your union should invite guests to the ceremony. Members of the Jewish community, university lecturers and staff are often keen to participate in Shoah ceremonies. If there are genocide or Shoah courses taking place at University then students and staff associated with these courses should be invited to attend.
We recommend that you the national anthems of both your country of residence and of Israel should be included in a Holocaust Commemoration Service with both flags being visible throughout the ceremony.
Over many years candles and candle lighting ceremonies have become an integral part of Holocaust ceremonies. The candle as a symbol of the Shoah is also very powerful. On one hand fire symbolizes destruction and the death of so many Jews. But the flame is also a symbol of hope and the future as expressed by the eternal (Ner Tamid) flame in synagogues all around the world.
Candle lighting ceremonies can take many forms.
Your choice of who lights the candles is very significant. Sometimes survivors can be asked to light the flame. Other time sit might be felt appropriate that young members light the flames to symbolize hope and future. It is also becoming increasingly common to have members across generations lighting flames.
On other occasions it has been felt appropriate to invite non-Jews to light flames. In some instances these were other victims of the Nazis including members of the gypsy or homosexual communities. Righteous Gentiles or members of the Clergy have also been invited to take part in candle lighting ceremonies.
Often Candle lighting becomes a central item of the overall ceremony. The impact of this event within a service should not be underestimated and a bit of thought should go into making this as significant as possible.
As we look at these lights,
try to imagine six million candles
each one with the name of another Jew.
Each one would signify a unique and
Precious soul, who struggles and had hope,
Who was part of a family, an orphan, a widow, or a widower,
They worked, studied, took walks-
The ordinary things of life.
They celebrated births and weddings,
Mourned at funerals.
All were part of the Jewish people, each one was a separate individual. Each one suffered.
Each and every one was murdered.
In lighting these candles we remember the six million Jewish martyrs who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
We dedicate each candle to an important group of witnesses.
This candle is dedicated to the children who witnessed the horror, starvation, deprivation and degradation if our people.
We dedicate this candle to those who witnessed the spiritual and physical resistance of our people during the Nazi regime.
With this candle we remember those people all over the world who witnessed and attempted to inform governments of what was happening to the Jewish people, even though their accounts fell upon deaf ears.
This candle is dedicated to the survivors of the Shoah who witnessed the liberation and had the courage to rebuild their shattered lives.
We dedicate this candle to those people who will be called upon as public witnessed in the forthcoming war crimes trials to be held in this country. May they find the strength and courage to cope with the resurgence of their darkest memories.
This last candle is dedicated to us – the next generation. We must bear witness to what has happened after all the other candles are extinguished and there is no-one but ourselves who are left to carry the flames of remembrance.
The first candle has been lit in memory of the babes in arms, innocent prey who were slaughtered without reason. May their souls be bound up in eternal life.
The second candle has been lit in memory of the children who valiantly tried to help parents and friends against all odds. And in the memory of their children who never had a chance to be. May their souls be bound up in eternal life.
The third candle has been lit in memory of those who formed partisan groups after escaping transports, ghettos and camps, to strike back at the terrible enemy. May their souls be bound up in eternal life.
The fourth candle has been lit in memory of ghetto fighters who dared to defy the Nazi War Machine while strong armed nations stood by uncaring and un-aiding. May their souls be bound up in eternal life.
The fifth candle has been lit in the memory of valiant men and women herded into ghettos who set up schools and synagogues, hospitals and soup kitchens, orphanages and burial societies, creating order in the midst of chaos and choosing life amidst death. May their souls be bound up in eternal life.
The sixth candle has been lit in memory of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers sisters cousins and friends who believed so deeply in goodness and whose blood cried out to us : “Remember us! Remember our lives! May their souls be bound up in eternal life.
We dedicate these 6 candles to the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Nazi persecutions.
1. In memory of the helpless infants, children and teenagers who were cut down like young trees, before their time. Zachor…Lo Tishkach !
All: We shall not forget.
2. In memory of all mothers who dies with their children in their arms. Zachor…Lo Tishkach !
All: We shall not forget.
3. In memory of all mothers and fathers who were cruelly separated from their families. Zachor…Lo Tishkach !
All: We shall not forget.
4. In memory of all scholars, teachers, rabbis who were the first to be seized. Zachor…Lo Tishkach !
All: We shall not forget.
5. In memory of the Heroes of the Resistance who fought the Nazis – so few against so many. Zachor…Lo Tishkach !
All: We shall not forget.
6. In memory of the Martyrs who gave their lives to help their brothers and sisters under the Nazis. Zachor…Lo Tishkach !
All: We shall not forget.
Suggested Outline for Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony on Campus
1. Welcomes, Introduction (Please refrain from applause during the ceremony)
2. Play a song or perhaps a short video.
3. Lighting of the Memorial Candles
4. Yiddish Poem with translation
5. Introduce Key note speaker
6. Key note speaker
7. Vote of thanks
9. A few words from your union
11. El Male Rachamim
(Possibly the Partisan Song)
*It is ideal to intersperse readings about the Holocaust between items.
These should include factual information about the Shoah so that the audience leave the commemoration ceremony feeling they have not only commemorated but been educated.
Quotes and Readings
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
George Bernard Shaw
'Take heed...lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and...teach them to your children and to your children's children.”
'Never think there is an easy way to make an end to such bitter memories. Only know that hope lives when people remember.'
'It was the only time in recorded history that a state tried to destroy an entire people, regardless of an individual's age, sex, location, profession, or belief. And it is the only instance in which the perpetrators conducted this genocide for no ostensible material, territorial, or political gain.'
Forgetfulness leads to Exile while Remembrance is the secret of Redemption
Baal Shem Tov
Pastor Martin Neimoller
First they went after the Communists,
and I did not stand up, because I was not a Communist.
Then they went after the homosexuals and infirm,
and I did not stand up, because I was neither.
Then they went after the Jews,
and I did not stand up, because I was not a Jew.
Then they went after the Catholics,
and I did not stand up, because I was Protestant.
Finally, they went after me,
and there was no one left to stand up for me.
“Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories. They are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish.
They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz
Lest the memory perish.
They are forbidden to despair of man and his world,
And to escape into either cynicism or other worldliness,
Lest they cooperate in delivering the world over
To the forces of Auschwitz.
Finally, they are forbidden to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish.”
from God’s Presence in History.
The 614th Commandment
'Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories.'
Jews..are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz, lest their memory perish. They are forbidden to despair of man and his world, and to escape into either cynicism or... otherworldliness, lest they cooperate in delivering the world over to the forces of Auschwitz. Finally, they are forbidden to despair of the God of Israel, lest Judaism perish. A secularist Jew cannot make himself believe by a mere act of will, nor can he be commanded to do so ... And a religious Jew who has stayed with his God may be forced into new, possibly revolutionary relationships with Him. One possibility, however, is wholly unthinkable. A Jew may not respond to Hitler’s attempt to destroy Judaism by himself cooperating in its destruction. In ancient times, the unthinkable Jewish sin was idolatry. Today, it is to respond to Hitler by doing his work.
Their faith…remains unshaken, and one may well wonder why. They do not despair.
The proof: they persist in surviving – not only to survive, but to testify. The victims elect
to become witnesses.
from One Generation After
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.
Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire but I am still able to say the prayer.” And again the miracle would be accomplished.
Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire but I am still able to say the prayer. And again the miracle would be accomplished.
Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.”
And it was sufficient.
from Gates of the Forest
The Madman's Prayer
Elie Wiesel tells the story of a small group of Jews who were gathered to pray in a little synagogue in Nazi-occupied Europe. As the service went on, suddenly a pious Jew who was slightly mad – for all pious Jews were by then slightly mad – burst in through the door. Silently he listened for a moment as the prayers ascended. Slowly he said: “Shh, Jews! Do not pray so loud! God will hear you. Then He will know that there are still some Jews left alive in Europe.”
God of forgiveness, do not forgive
The Nobel Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, who was in Auschwitz as a child, said in an address at an unofficial ceremony commemorating the camp's liberation:
'Although we know that God is merciful, please God do not have mercy on those who have created this place. God of forgiveness, do not forgive those murderers of Jewish children here.
Do not forgive the murderers and their accomplices. Those who have been here... remember the nocturnal processions of children and more children and more children, frightened, quiet, so quiet and so beautiful.
If we could simply look at one, our heart would break. Did it not break the heart of the murderers? God, merciful God, do not have mercy on those who had no mercy on Jewish children.
Naturally, we know that there is no collective guilt. Only the guilty were guilty. Their children are children. So children all over the world, remember the Jewish children.
And if you remember, as we try to remember, then, as you just heard; hope is possible that because of our memory, thanks to our Jewish memory, a better world might be built in which children could be happy ... smiling, singing, taking each other's hands and saying to each other:
'Well, another morning, another day. Another morning, another day, for human-kind.'
It is Really a Wonder
It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I look into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty will end, and the peace and tranquility will return again.
In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.
Anne Frank’s Diary July 15, 1944
Memory is a Sacred Energy
Memory is a sacred energy. Forgetting desecrates the past and endangers the future. But we must remember wisely. For the sake of our children we must not forget the heroism of such as the Metropolita Stephan and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Church who defied the insistent Nazi orders to deport 50,000 Bulgarian Jews to death camps. We must remember the deeds of Himmler and Eichmann, but we dare not suffer amnesia to blot out the names and acts of families who hid the family of Anne Frank.
The First Ones
The first ones to be destroyed were the children, little orphans, abandoned upon the
face of the earth;
They who were the best in the world, the acme of grace on the dark earth;
Oh, tender orphans !
From them, the bereaved of the world
In a house of shelter we drew consolation;
From the mournful face, mute and dark, we said the light of day will yet break upon us…
written in the Warsaw Ghetto
The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.
fromThe Book of Laughter and Forgetting
I Have Read Their Words
I have read their words. I have looked without comprehension at their pictures. I
have walked as softly as I could over the newly-lain stone at Dachau in order not to
disturb their memories, to try to hear their whispers of wisdom, dignity, courage.
I can never see what they saw. I can never feel the fear and the sorrow that they felt. What would I have done with the few precious moments before I was marched into the gas chamber and out of the world of humanity ? Would I have had courage ? Would I have had faith ?
If I even so much as try to experience their agony, then I become part of a lie. But if I do not read their words, if I do not look at their pictures, if I do not convey something of them, however distant, to someone else – maybe to you – then I will become part of the betrayal.
And this I cannot do.
Passing of the Legacy and Acceptance
Passing of the Legacy
We, the living survivors, entrust the legacy of the Shoah to you,
The second generation and there after to all generations.
We want you to vow that the sacred memory of our suffering and our martyrdom shall
never be scorned or erased.
We want you to recall the heroism of Jewish resistance : remember the shining examples
of sacrifice and kindness from the Righteous Gentiles.
Remember the racial prejudice and discrimination which led to the Holocaust.
By not forgetting, you will pay tribute to those who were destroyed. By not forgetting,
you will ensure for those who live, and those who are yet to be born, that we intend never
to allow such an insanity to happen again.
This is the heritage, we the survivors, entrust to your custody for safekeeping for all
generations to come.
Through our parents’ memories, words and silence,
We are linked.
We dedicate this promise to you, who suffered and survived.
To our grandparents who perished in the flames.
To our vanished brothers and sisters.
To all six million
Never to allow such an insanity to happen again.
We accept and promise to keep this sacred memory alive from generation to generation
wherever we may be.
We promise to remember!
We promise to teach our children to preserve that Jewish spirit which could not be destroyed.
We promise to remind the world of the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights which were attained, even in hell itself.
We shall fight anti-Semitism and all forms of racial hatred throughout the world.
We will not neglect our obligations to the continuity of Jewish life and the State of Israel.
We pledge ourselves to the unity of the Jewish people.
We are your future !
Yes we accept !
Blessed Is the Match
Blessed is the match that burns out in lighting the flame.
Blessed is the flame that flares in the heart's hidden chambers.
Blessed are the hearts that know when to leave off with honor.
Blessed is the match that burns out in lighting the flame.
Among All the Nations
While our children wept in the gallows' shadow,
we heard nothing of the world's great rage.
From among all the nations you chose us,
you loved us and showed that you wanted us.
From among all the nations you chose us,
the Norwegians, the Czechs, and the British.
As our children are marched to the gallows -
Jewish children, children who are wise,
they know that their blood won't be thought of as blood -
and they call to their mothers, 'Don't watch.'
And the ax by night and by day devours,
and the Christian father in the city on high
from his holy palace does not emerge
to stand against the pogrom with his savior -
To stand for a day, for a single day only,
where the child has stood for years
like a lonely young goat,
But there's great concern for the paintings and sculptures
and famous collections which might be destroyed,
while the famous collection of infants' heads
are crushed against roads and walls.
Their eyes say: Mother, Don't watch,
how we're laid out in long lines.
Experienced soldiers, all well-known,
only we among them are small.
Their eyes say more:
God of our fathers, we knew
among all the children you'd chosen us
and loved us and showed that you wanted us -
That among all the children you chose us
before your throne to be slaughtered,
and you gather our blood in vessels of clay
for beside you it has no collector;
As though it were flowers you take in its scent,
and you gather it up in a mantle,
and you'll seek it - from the veins of the murderers,
and the veins of the silent as well.
Let Us Commemorate
Let us commemorate our brothers and sisters, the houses of the city and of the village,
The shtetl streets that resounded with tumult like a river
And the lonely roadside inn;
The countenance of the old man,
And the mother with her shawl,
The young girl with her braids,
And the small children;
The thousands of Jewish communities that belonged to humankind,
And the entire Jewish people,
Slaughtered on European soil by the Nazi extirpator;
The man who cried a sudden prayer
And, crying, died;
The woman who embraced her infant tightly
As her arms faltered;
The infant whose fingers grope for his mother’s nipple, But it is blue and cold;
The legs, the legs that sought refuge
When there was nowhere to run;
And those who clenched their fists,
The fist that clutched the iron bar,
The iron bar that became the weapon of vision, despair, and rebellion.
They were pure in heart,
And with open eyes
They cast their lives aside, but their arms fell short of salvation.
Let us remember the day,
The midday, the sun
That rose over the bloody site,
The sky that stood high and silent;
Let us remember the hills of ashes beneath the blooming gardens.
May the living remember the dead, for they are here in front of us,
Here they gaze about.
Let us not be silent, let us not be silent, until our lives are worthy of their memory.
'My Last Wish in Life Has Come True'
It is clear to us now that events have exceeded expectations. We have outdone ourselves in resisting the Germans, but our strength is ebbing. We are on the verge of destruction. Twice we forced the Germans to retreat, but they returned with redoubled strength.
One of our [military] companies held out for about forty minutes. Another fought for nearly six hours. The mine that we planted in the 'brushmakers' area blew up. Then we attacked the Germans and caused them heavy losses. Our losses, for the most part, were not extensive. That, too, is an achievement. Z. fell, beside the machine gun. I sense great things happening, and I believe that what we have dared to do is invaluable and tremendous.
For lack of choice we are going over to the partisan method today. Six combat companies are going out tonight, with two missions: scout the place out and seize arms. Remember: Short arms are worthless to us. We rarely use such weapons. We need large quantities of rifles, grenades, machine guns, and explosives.
I haven’t the strength to describe to you the conditions under which the ghetto Jews now live. Very few may be able to withstand these agonies. The rest will die, sooner or later. Their fate is sealed, although thousands are trying to hide in cracks and mouse holes. You cannot light candles there, for lack of air. Accept my blessings, you people on the outside. Maybe by force of a miracle we will meet one day. That’s doubtful, extremely doubtful.
My last wish in life has come true. Jewish self-defense has become a fact. Jewish resistance and revenge have become real. I am happy and content that I was one of the first Jewish fighters in the ghetto.
Written in the ghetto on April 23, 1943,in the midst of the uprising
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.
I see myself an ancient Israelite.
I wander o”er the roads of ancient Egypt
And here, upon the cross, I perish, tortured
And even now, I bear the marks of nails.
It seems to me that Dreyfus is myself.
The Philistines betrayed me - and now judge.
I”m in a cage. Surrounded and trapped,
I”m persecuted, spat on, slandered, and
The dainty dollies in their Brussels frills
Squeal, as they stab umbrellas at my face.
I see myself a boy in Belostok
Blood spills, and runs upon the floors,
The chiefs of bar and pub rage unimpeded
And reek of vodka and of onion, half and half.
I”m thrown back by a boot, I have no strength left,
In vain I beg the rabble of pogrom,
To jeers of 'Kill the Jews, and save our Russia!'
My mother”s being beaten by a clerk.
O, Russia of my heart, I know that you
Are international, by inner nature.
But often those whose hands are steeped in filth
Abused your purest name, in name of hatred.
I know the kindness of my native land.
How vile, that without the slightest quiver
The antisemites have proclaimed themselves
The 'Union of the Russian People!'
It seems to me that I am Anna Frank,
Transparent, as the thinnest branch in April,
And I”m in love, and have no need of phrases,
But only that we gaze into each other”s eyes.
How little one can see, or even sense!
Leaves are forbidden, so is sky,
But much is still allowed - very gently
In darkened rooms each other to embrace.
-'No, fear not - those are sounds
Of spring itself. She”s coming soon.
Quickly, your lips!'
-'They break the door!'
-'No, river ice is breaking...'
Wild grasses rustle over Babi Yar,
The trees look sternly, as if passing judgement.
Here, silently, all screams, and, hat in hand,
I feel my hair changing shade to gray.
And I myself, like one long soundless scream
Above the thousands of thousands interred,
I”m every old man executed here,
As I am every child murdered here.
No fiber of my body will forget this.
May 'Internationale' thunder and ring
When, for all time, is buried and forgotten
The last of antisemites on this earth.
There is no Jewish blood that”s blood of mine,
But, hated with a passion that”s corrosive
Am I by antisemites like a Jew.
And that is why I call myself a Russian!
And the child held her hand
A child tiny for almost eight,
Deep blue eyes that dominated his face,
When he explained new events to her,
that funny doggy,
that pretty rock,
And the freckles on his cheek,
No one saw a sunrise more perfect,
She so vividly smells the fragrance of
his breath in the morning
She vividly hears that little heartbeat,
that was hers
and the laughter,
that raspy little laugh,
when he caught her in a conundrum.
But this is merely the surface,
As she watches her little God sheared,
For the gas chamber.
Avrom Sutzkever (1913-)
Frozen Jews Have you seen, in fields of snow,
frozen Jews, row on row?
Blue marble forms lying,
Not breathing, not dying.
Somewhere a flicker of a frozen soul--
glint of fish in an icy swell.
All brood. Speech and silence are one.
Night snow encases the sun.
A smile glows immobile
from a rose lip's chill.
Baby and mother, side by side.
Odd that her nipple's dried.
Fist, fixed in ice, of a naked old man:
the power's undone in his hand.
I've sampled death in all guises.
Yet a frost in July in this heat--
a crazy assault in the street.
I and blue carrion, face to face.
Frozen Jews in a snowy space.
Marble shrouds my skin.
Words ebb. Light grows thin.
I'm frozen, I'm rooted in place
like the naked old man enfeebled by ice.
Moscow, July 10, 1944
(from the Yiddish by Cynthia Ozick)
Hitler's First Photograph
And who's this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That's tiny baby Adolf, the Hitler's little boy!
Will he grow up to be an L.L.D.?
Or a tenor in Vienna's Opera House?
Whose teensy hand is this, whose little ear and eye and nose?
Whose tummy full of milk, we just don't know:
printer's, doctor's, merchant's, priest's?
Where will those tootsy-wootsies finally wander?
To a garden, to a school, to an office, to a bride?
Maybe to the Buergermeister's daughter?
Precious little angel, mommy's sunshine, honey bun.
While he was being born, a year ago,
there was no dearth of signs on the earth and in the sky:
spring sun, geraniums in windows,
the organ-grinder's music in the yard,
a lucky fortune wrapped in rosy paper.
Then just before the labor his mother's fateful dream.
A dove seen in a dream means joyful news--
if it is caught, a long-awaited guest will come.
Knock knock, who's there, it's Adolf's heartschen knocking.
A little pacifier, diaper, rattle, bib,
our bouncing boy, thank God and knock on wood, is well,
looks just like his folks, like a kitten in a basket,
like the tots in every other family album.
Sh-h-h, let's not start crying, sugar,
The camera will click from under that black hood.
The Klinger Atelier, Grabenstrasse, Braunen.
And Braunen is a small but worthy town--
honest businesses, obliging neighbors,
smell of yeast dough, of gray soap.
No one hears howling dogs, or fate's footsteps.
A history teacher loosens his collar
and yawns over homework.
Berish Weinstein (1905-1967)
The rushing ax cools and bleeds; the ax drips,
And necks, at its edge, split and rebound;
The gash at the gleaming cut is dimmed with steam;
And blood drains swiftly away from the cold steel.
In prison cells, bodies are branded with dark blue swellings.
Clothes fall apart beneath the flaying switch
And under a cold sweat, bellies quiver.
Wounds drain and congeal to raw meat.
To keep its fine edge, the ax is thrust in the ground.
So it will shine when it”s held to the spurting sun;
Held over white sifted sands, over freshly planed boards
On which the newly shaved heads, their eyes wide open,
Their necks cleanly washed, and warmly unbuttoned, will bounce.
The wound of decapitation”s extinguished in sand;
Teeth clench the lips; the still living temples throb.
Through its covering cloth, the body continues to breathe.
Sometimes, a foot or a hand tries to live; the fingers, watching, die.
Executioners scrub off the spots and neatly adjust their clothes.
Through the nailed-shut doors of Wedding the night yells with a Jewish girl.
Again, delicate and white, the ax darkens against a beam;
At the grave of a fresh corpse, a spade still crunches crisp earth.
(from the Yiddish by Leonard Wolf)
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun”s tears would sing
against a white stone.
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly way up high.
It went away I”m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I”ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don”t live here,
in the ghetto.
Written on June 4, 1942, when Pavel was age 7.
Sent to Terezin on April 26, 1942, he died in Auschwitz on September 29, 1944.
The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads
To bury itself deep somewhere
inside our memories.
We've suffered here more than enough,
Here in this clot of grief and shame,
Wanting a badge of blindness
To be a proof for their own children.
A fourth year of waiting, like standing above a swamp
From which any moment might gush forth a spring.
Meanwhile, the rivers flow another way,
Not letting you die, not letting you live.
And the cannons don't scream and the guns don't bark
And you don't see blood here.
Nothing, only silent hunger.
Children steal the bread here and ask and ask and ask
And all would wish to sleep, keep silent, and
just go to sleep again...
The heaviest wheel rolls across our foreheads
To bury itself deep somewhere inside our memories
“Let Us Say Kaddish”
Let us say Kaddish not only for the dead, but also for the living who have forgotten the dead.
And let the prayer be more than a prayer more than a lament; let it be outcry, protest and defiance.
And above al let it be an act of remembrance. For that is what the victims wanted: to be remembered, at least to be remembered.
For just as the killer was determined to erase Jewish memory, so were the dying heroes and fighting martyrs bent on maintaining it alive.
They are now being defamed; or forgotten – which is like killing them a second time.
Let us say Kaddish together – and to allow others to betray them posthumously.
both from Strangled Cries
of the computer
upon my arm
Lament for the Gypsies
Their home was the endless plains of Eurasia
Their roof was the starlit sky under which
they slept in tribal embrace
Although their tragic share is seldom included
in the Holocaust of World War Two
They bequeathed to us before they were
consumed by crematoria a unique legacy:
that of a people
Who practices without preaching
what they believed-
The peoples should not be divided by frontiers.
Also on the WUJS site:
More Yom HaShoah Activities.
Theology of Holocaust Sources
The very basics on Holocaust Memorial Day.
This year's dates for Yom HaShoah can be found in our Jewish Calendar.