Victory in Europe, 1945 by András Mezei

translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (June 2015)





Like burnt grass, my life endures

after the hunger, strife and terror –

The sword, the pestilence retreat

though I remember… I remember.



I’ve survived the sight of the scorching

embers of stunning wickedness.

I need no evil fantasies

since I remember, I remember.



Skeletons tramping the ramparts of Babel.

I’ve arrived from bottomless depths

that hold my beloved, moaning dead

whom I remember, I remember.



Even my pursuing killers

share the sunshine, but still I freeze –

My gaunt and mighty angel soars

as I remember, I remember.



But I stop the chase and turn

facing up to my tormentors.

I am a gravemound: let them strike

while I remember, I remember.



I am homeless, with only a gate

hanging ajar to the lamentation

of bitter, hateful poverty

that I remember, I remember.



Here in the ruined autumn streets

shuffles a trembling, sightless beggar,

and I defer to him from afar

for I remember. I remember.







Blessed be those whom I passed on the street,

those who beheld on my chest

the yellow Star of David,

those who were saddened by the sight,

those who walked on with heavy heart

burdened by shame; and blessed be also

those who chose to avert their faces

closed with fixed and frozen looks.







The table stands on pounded dirtfloor

covered by a white damask tablecloth,

with plaited milk-bread set out and prayerbooks,

and some small candles already burning,

the silver candlesticks expecting

the moment when the Sabbath will enter,

the Bride will stand upon the rag-carpet

and join us in the empty chair,

the one by grandfather, and this night

no-one should be missing among us,

this pious family murmuring prayers,

blessing each piece of milk-bread in turn,

sitting together in the kitchen

where the fringes of the double-thick tablecloth

softly cascade down onto our laps,

I see fiddling fingers plaiting the fringes

for today is holy, holy, and

our hands today must do no work

as people who are joined by the Sabbath

must not even think of business –

I watch grandfather’s Sabbath face

depart from time to time to Jerusalem

and return again when our eyes meet

as though his kingdom were right here,

and grandfather sits in peaceful silence

at the head of the great long table

laden for Friday evening with milk-bread,

laden with wine and candlelight,

he is the first to break and taste

the milk-loaf, to bless it and pass it on

to each of us for further blessing –



Every fallen crumb of that golden

braided milk-loaf collects here now,

the stars that have scattered from the timeless

table of God all gather here now,

but, my God, where is that Sabbath

the day when everyone could sleep longer

and grandmother read in the big double-bed

and my dangling feet did not reach the floor

and my eyes could not yet see past the walls

where a wagon was pulled up for us

with everyone brutally crammed inside…



Mother and I, the lucky survivors,

sit on one side of the great laden table:

the fringes of the double-thick tablecloth

dangle over empty space.







The orphans saying Kaddish, praising Him,

after the genocide, praising Him the Eternal,

Kaddish said by the orphans, singing His praise,

praising Him the Eternal, after the genocide.



What kind of people are the survivors ready already to chant:

holy, holy, holy be His name, the smoke has not even

dispersed, the surviving people, chanting already, what kind of smoke

is this, not even dispersed, His name be holy, holy, holy.



His law will light up the broken eyes of the dead,

already it has lit up the gaze of the living,

the broken eyes of the dead lit up by His law

already, it has lit up the gaze of the living



praising Him, the orphans saying Kaddish,

the survivors, what kind of people are they ready already to chant,

the broken eyes of the dead by His law lit up:

holy, holy, holy be His name,

the smoke has not even dispersed.








I walk along that street as though

nothing had occurred there,

I recall each face as though

the residents were still present,

I name the name of every soul,

from house to house I walk and call

my brothers who still live there,

together, beyond the present.





András Mezei (1930-2008), a major voice of the Hungarian Holocaust. More of his poetry in Thomas Land’s English translation is published in Survivors and Christmas in Auschwitz (both by Smokestack Books, England in 2014 and 2010, respectively) and in The 100 Years War (Bloodaxe, England, 2014).




Thomas Ország-Land (b. 1938), a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His contributions appear in current, forthcoming or recent issues of Acumen, Ambit, The Author, The Hungarian Quarterly, The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine and Stand.

(Author Photo by Hajnalka Friebert)



To comment on these poems, please click here.

To help New English Review continue to publish translations of poetry such as this, please click here.

If you enjoyed these poems and want to read more by Thomas Ország-Land, please click here. 




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New English Review Press is a priceless cultural institution.
                              — Bruce Bawer

The perfect gift for the history lover in your life. Order on Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon or Amazon UK or wherever books are sold

Order at Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold. 

Order at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Send this to a friend