Holocaust Poetry For Our Time

by Thomas Ország-Land (September 2010)

Beneath a gloomy square of the sky
in the shadow of awesome, looming walls,
a crowd of kids met day after day
to test and learn in that well of twilight
which boys in the block were destined to die.
A few at a time. Our faces were grey
and small, our eyes were clouded with fear.
We hung the Book and a key on a thread —
for we understood the path of death
but could not make it go away.
We huddled close with lonely dread
in our hearts. The Bible turned around
and with it, the key. They came to rest
at random to point at a ghetto child.
He would be the first among the dead.
The block has grown, the world progressed.
I, the survivor, stand in the sunlight
aware of the cloud in every eye
as fear of the future grips the globe,
rekindling the doom in every breast. 


Unmarked the moment when our forebears lost
our innocence to automated killing.
The prisoners' feet were kissed by winter frost,
their hunger ached. Some gave up hope, unwilling
to stumble on with pride and will run out.
They deemed a small delay a meagre prize,
fell gently and remained there calm and solemn,
unless one were to shout at them to rise,
awaiting death behind the marching column.
Some people had the stubborn strength to shout.
They've left to us the throb of phantoms' feet
and principles esteemed by every nation,
a world of wealthy customers to eat
the feast of plenty set by automation —
and now and then a fearful, halting doubt
when warplanes scrape across the sky a scar
above our loved ones' heads or when the telly
brings for our entertainment from afar
a child with hunger bloated in the belly
and we have lost the voice or will to shout.

          In memoriam Kurt Waldheim…* 

Small world, what, Excellency? We shall not shake hands.
I do not care how you manage to live with the murder of children
among the conquered women and spoilt vineyards and olivegroves
back in the Balkans, back in your youth: that is your affair.
But what you have done, to me and my world, that's mine.
At last, our final meeting. You were an obedient officer
ordered to make a corpse of me, perforce a small one.
I have survived the mayhem to make a poem of you.
I am more generous than you and far more consistent.
Old soldiers like you in public life can still be of use.
Admit the past for the sake of the future, and go in peace
at the mercy of your smouldering, sordid, meandering memories.
Or dare to persist in denying the truth and the value of life,
pretend that nothing occurred to stir your attention,
and I promise you will never escape the stench of corpses:
for I will record your name as well as the crimes
from which you say you averted your indifferent eyes,
in tales of horror to be recounted throughout the ages
till the end of the march of innocent future generations
to weigh up anew, again and again, and recoil from your life.

*… (1918-2007), former president of Austria, secretary-general
of the United Nations and intelligence officer of Hitler's
Wehrmacht, who died peacefully days after publicly repenting

his silence over the atrocities.

THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent, and a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and the three-month Soviet siege of Budapest at the close of the Second World war. His last book was CHRISTMAS IN AUSCHWITZ: Holocaust Poetry Translated from the Hungarian of Andr?s Mezei (Smokestack, England) published in June.

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