Poems on Hitler’s Holocaust and torture today

This video says about itself:

The haunting opening sequence to the film documentary Shoah sees one of only two survivors of the notorious Chelmno concentration camp return to the place where it all happened.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

Chilling lines on torture

Wednesday 10 March 2010

The title poem of George Szirtes’s new collection The Burning Of The Books (Bloodaxe, £8.95) refers to the 1933 nazi book burnings and all those places “where barbarians gather with their torches/And rank upon rank of shelves, tongues and footnotes/Are burning as always, as is their nature, in the streets/Of the city that opens like a book and must itself always be burning.”

But it is also an assertion of the “Pentecostal flames” of art, of “ideas blackening and curling into a forgotten language.”

The book is a series of meditations on history and language, silence and witness, notably the concentration camp where his mother was imprisoned during the second world war, the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and the war photographers who documented life “in ghettos, in camps, in the dismal spaces/of the imagination reserved for Jews.”

Szirtes’s brilliant use of difficult verse forms like canzoni, sonnets, villanelles and terza rima feels like a defiant and extravagant display of craft in the face of those who would burn books. As the German poet Heine once wrote, “where they have burned books, they will in the end burn people.”

There are plenty of burning bodies in Charles Reznikoff‘s 1976 classic Holocaust (Five Leaves, £8.99), a series of found poems based on the records of the Nuremberg military tribunals and the later Eichmann trial.

Every page is a chilling catalogue of shootings, burnings, whips, kicks, rifle-butts, pits and bonfires taken from legal documents and witness statements.

The contrast between the book’s matter-of-fact tone and the appalling facts it relates is unbearable. In one poem a young woman tries to save her baby. “The SS man laughed/and tore the baby apart as one would tear a rag./Just then a stray dog passed/and the S.S. man stooped to pat it/and took a lump of sugar out of his pocket/and gave it to the dog.”

Consider too the bald use of the word “civilised” in the following passage in which a nazi speaks. “We are the civilised/Aryans;/and do not always kill those condemned to death/merely because they are Jews/as the less civilised might:/we use them to benefit science/like rats or mice.” Or the effect of the ordinary word “busy” in this passage. “Two dozen workers were busy/opening the mouths of the dead with iron hooks/and with chisels taking out teeth with golden caps.”

As Szirtes writes in his introduction, to read Holocaust is a terrible experience, but an “oddly affirming” one. “The violin does not sob, the harmonica does not sound in the hut, the voice of the cantor does not rise from the pit. There is no soundtrack at all, only perfectly objective language falling as accurately as it can.”

Richard McKane worked for many years as an interpreter for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (“every day I am presented with torture/to interpret”).

He is also a distinguished translator, best known for making the poetry of Akhmatova, Mande[l]stam and Hikmet available to English readers.

Out of the Cold Blue: Poems 1999-1967 (Hearing Eye, £9.99) brings together more than three decades of his verse, most of it previously unpublished.

The poems are presented in reverse order starting with Epilogue and finishing with The Crown Of Gorse, a long sonnet sequence from the 1960s.

Books, history, writers and places are invariably McKane’s subject matter and some poems come across as letters or diary entries in verse – presents for friends.

They are international poems, written in cafes, pubs and bars in Russia, France, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Palestine, Afghanistan, the US and London.

And they are a sustained lament for a world tortured by planned barbarisms and casual cruelties. “The blisters are still there and the sores on the face of the earth… and human life is still not worth/what it should be. Round the globe suffering is shuffled/at random by human fire, famine and flood.”

The case of Heinrich Boere is an example of how hundreds of thousands of Nazi criminals were able to use the post-war German justice system to escape punishment—if they ever faced being brought to justice in the first place: here.

9 thoughts on “Poems on Hitler’s Holocaust and torture today

  1. Holocaust denial becomes a crime

    Hungary: President Laszlo Solyom signed a law on Wednesday making Holocaust denial punishable by three years in prison.

    The law was approved last month by Hungarian MPs after more wide-ranging versions of the law had been rejected by courts for limiting free speech.

    About 550,000 Hungarian Jews and 50,000 Roma were killed in the Holocaust.



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