Empty Reels by András Mezei

Translated from the Hungarian & Edited
by Thomas Ország-Land
(November 2016)


ANDRÁS MEZEI (1930-2008), a child survivor of the Hungarian Holocaust, emigrated to Israel after the war but returned to his homeland to research, digest and record in eyewitness poetry the destruction of his family and experiences in the Budapest Ghetto as well as the testimonies of fellow survivors. He became an influential author, editor and publisher of both the Soviet era and the subsequent post-Communist reconstruction. Today, his work is conspicuously being ignored by the Hungarian literary establishment but, in English translation, it is winning a place on the curricula of Western universities. (photo: András Mezei in 1970)






You’re lost in grief abroad

forever –

in cobblestones, asphalt.

The hostile god of the land

swoops down upon you.


You know your life is only

the road to resurrection:


And your belief

brings no relief.






Thirty-four cities throughout the Reich received

735 goods-trains comprising

a total of 29,000 wagons bringing

fabrics, carpets, paintings, sofas, bookshelves,

beds and dining tables, tablecloths, plates

and knives and forks and spoons and ivory chopsticks

and fine assortments of silver and pewter tableware

with a metallic aftertaste… this loot collected

from 71,619

homes in Belgium, France and Holland alone,

possessions giving pleasure throughout the Reich –

if the final solution could not be otherwise,

at least the little bracelets, the evening shoes,

the fragrant ballgowns by the baleful were welcome,

and the leather jackets and furs. The sender:

Dr. Rajakowitsch, Liquidation Dept., SS.






As the marchers dragged themselves forward,

the bare-footed peasants by the road

picked out the choicest boots and trousers

and, at their bidding, the guards

shot down the occasional well-clad prisoner

in exchange for a handful of notes.

The deathmarch stumbled on towards Orhei.

The peasants collected their wares.






Those tottering figures who wandered away

from the lengthy disintegrating

marching columns of the deported,

who left the highways

and took to the fields

soaked by the icy November showers

in flapping rags like windblown scarecrows,

those were my people, such easy targets

for the guard, folk hunted like rabbits,

yet who still attempted to beg,

yet who still were shot down while trying —

I remember them

every morning

when I take on the day and the dross

has not yet gathered in my heart.






I praise my father’s compass. He chose to disperse us

to save us the pain of witnessing each other’s fate.

That’s how I’ve come to treasure forever these gifts

from my late mother and sister and baby brother:

empty reels, their keepsakes from different camps.




THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes for New English Review on Europe and the Middle East. His last book was Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust (Smokestack, 2014) and his last E-chapbook, Reading for Rush Hour: A Pamphlet in Praise of Passion (Snakeskin, 2016), both in England. His work appears also in current issues of Acumen, Standpoint and The Transnationalist.


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