A Monody for Josef Burghauser

by Jeffrey Burghauser (June 2024)

Execution (Sketch for Shootings, No. 33) —Andrzej Wróblewski, 1949


____Born: 15 March 1877, Czernowitz (Austro-Hungarian Empire)
____Settled in Vienna: Date Unknown
____Baptized: 2 September 1920
____Renounced Baptism: Sometime in 1924
____Murdered: 6 June 1942, Maly Trostenets (Nazi-Occupied Belarus)*

Though Josef was already middle-aged,
He was apprenticed to a tailor near
The Viennese apartment where he staged
His humble life. On Poverty’s frontier,
He wondered, at the age of forty-three,
Accepting Jesus Christ into his heart.
To what unwieldy lock was this the key?—
To what internal shock, the counterpart?

____The Synagogue reclaimed him only four
Years later. He extolled the Jewish God
Until his deportation to the gore
That thickened underneath a firing squad.

____Or rather, Josef didn’t not extol
The Jewish God, the otherworldly Whence,
To whom his father sacrificed his soul
With such immediate obedience.

____Dear Josef: during your severely black,
Smudged Pentateuch of days inside the beast
Advancing down the seasoned railroad track
Toward your final nightmare in the East,
Retracing in reverse the hopeful route
Your body took to meet your weakened mind
That had, so long ago, quite destitute,
Renounced the hometown Destiny assigned…

____Dear Josef: peering through the gnarled space
Between the timbers, witnessing the flit
Of each secluded building’s eastern face,
Where, years ago, you’d seen the opposite…

____Dear Josef: Having been cascaded from
The fœtid cattle car’s disjointed hatch
To where the fact of troubles overcome
And self-respect mutually detach…

____Dear Josef: made to trudge (while knowing why)
To where there was, beyond the meadow’s crust,
The source of all that Mauser smoke & lye,
Lament & bullet-animated dust,
With each exhausted step descending to
A denser intermixing with the mud
Of bullet casings, harrowingly new
Fistfuls of women’s hair, rosettes of blood…

____Dear Uncle Josef, how would you define
The “I” that knelt upon the trench’s edge?
Your wraith approaches, mean as iodine.
“Just wait; you’ll know,” its eyes forlornly pledge.

*  “During 1942, Jews from Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were brought by train to be killed in Maly Trostinets. Most of the victims were lined up in front of large pits and shot. Tractors then flattened the pits out.” —Shoah Resource Center, Yad Vashem.


Table of Contents


Jeffrey Burghauser is a teacher in Columbus, Ohio. He was educated at SUNY-Buffalo and the University of Leeds. He currently studies the five-string banjo with a focus on pre-WWII picking styles. A former artist-in-residence at the Arad Arts Project (Israel), his poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Appalachian Journal, Fearsome Critters, Iceview, Lehrhaus, and New English Review. Jeffrey’s book-length collections are available on Amazon, and his website is www.jeffreyburghauser.com.

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


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