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Desolation’s Shadow – Second Generation Poetry

Martin Herskovitz was born in the United States in 1955 to parents from Czechoslovakia, his mother a Holocaust survivor. Martin Read More
Member Since
Mar 2020
Published Books
6

Introduction

I was born in the shadow of the Holocaust. The traumatic events of the Holocaust had a significant effect on the psyche of the survivors and their children. There are thousands of books, papers and articles about the psychological make up of the Second Generation

A quote from one such article says:

Literature suggests that after the war many survivors quickly entered into loveless marriages in their desire to rebuild their family life as quickly as possible. And these survivors remained married even though the marriages may have lacked emotional intimacy. Children of these types of marriages may not have been given the nurturance needed to develop positive self-images.”

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These sentences do nothing to understand the anger, pain and frustration that I lived with but only hints at a pthology. I wrote poems in order to tell my story as a child of a survivors whose life was impacted so immensely being born into a maelstrom.

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Renewal

Jerusalem after the snow,

almond trees blanketed in frost.

I watched their branches swirl in the gusts,

showering petals that could not hold fast.

It is cruel to bloom in the winter,

When one’s sap is turgid and sour,

translucent petals exposed to the shivering sleet.

What fruits will be brought forth from these,

thick husked and bitter no doubt.

 

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And when stillness comes, of what do these blossom dream?

Of warm summer breezes and shimmering red flowers,

and hummingbirds craning their sparkling neck

to sip of their fragrant nectar, perhaps.

But theirs is to bloom while the hummingbirds sleep,

impelled by some impassive force of nature, bent on renewal,

to put forth these tiny pale flowers,

in the midst of the maelstrom

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Runes

When I was a toddler,

Two and a half or so,

I learned about a room fan,

As children left alone tend to do.

Sixty–seven stitches later

The back of my left hand

Has been inscribed with pale runes,

Glyphs by which I guide my life.

Deciphered:

Do not need,

Do not want,

Do not love too well,

And you will not be wounded.

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Snow Queen

When I was five I was afraid that the Snow Queen,

whiteness and ice,

would kidnap me to her Arctic castle.

while other kids feared vampires and monsters

who howled and roared,

I was terrified of her cold blue eyes and her kisses of frost

that threatened to freeze my heart.

My sister would say if she’s made of ice, then she’s the Ice queen.

Ice queen , ice cream ha, ha, ha.

But I still wouldn’t let myself sleep,

And looked out the winter window

for her to steal me away

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Berries

I remember the ceremony, as a child,

in the lengthening shade of the mulberry tree,

as the Kibbutz elders read the names.

Their names,

names that had become ours.

Names like a breeze

that wafted upwards through the tendriled

green mulberries.

Names like the shadow that grew long

with day’s end.

 

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Late that summer I would return to the tree

to pick these mulberries from the ground

their sweetness embittered with dust,

unaware of the names that had lodged in my soul

like the tiny hard seeds of a mulberry.

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Legacy

The acid that was my parents has left a residue of pain,

Angry and weary.

But it has etched upon my soul,

beneath the sadness and the pain,

vistas of sensitivity

that I was borne to reveal

yet fear.

 

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Hunger

My father had been willing to love me

unblemished

without sadness.

But in my world of turmoil

it was best to go without ,

to not chance repudiation.

Sooner or later, famished, I would,

try and draw near,

disguising my sorrow,

effacing the wounds.

entreating , despite the scars that did not heal,

to be worthy

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Pharaoh’s Cow

I am part of a war unfinished

a war that can never  be finished,

for its corpses remain unburied

its dead yet unmourned.

I am an actor in a  narrative never told

a syllable in a secret left unwhispered

its message passed to me by silence, in silence,

I have spent my life peering into chasms of needs

hungers unsated, famines never to be sated

like   Pharaoh’s cows,

a hunger that devours fatted heifers,

ever gaunt.

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Missing Persons
She would sit alone in her room after school
practicing her cursive to be round not spiky
until mother came home.

She’d wait for her Mother to lay on the couch,
draping a damp towel over her eyes.
“I’m going outside” She’d whisper over her shoulder,

and then went out to find her sister who,

Mother had said, she had lost .
“It doesn’t matter
if I’ll know who she is,”
she’d tell herself,
as she looked expectantly at the faces of strangers,
waiting to be found
“She’ll recognize me.”

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The Fourth Candle

I wake from my Friday afternoon nap,

My mother beside me, weeping silently.

She  leads me by the hand.

“Come, Tati has gone to shul,

it is time to light the candles”

One for Tati, one for you, one for me”

and one unnamed, for the silence.

Then dabbing away the streaks of tears,

the Sabbath Queen should see no sadness,

we  sit on cane-backed chairs at the table

to wait for Father to return.

 

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Today I do not mourn.

but some  nights I sprinkle a few drops

on my pillow

to lay upon the moistness

and dream

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Poems

of

Desolation

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Pixieman

They called him Pixieman

Because his forehead sloped up in a funny way

And he laughed a lot,

And he had long thick shoelaces, so he could tie them

And the bows would flop on the ground.

When he did errands for his mother

they would run after him yelling “Pixieman, Pixieman”,

But he would just smile

When the Nazis came, their dogs scared him

And the shouts of the soldiers

So he bolted into the forest.

A dozen soldiers were sent

while the rest of the town had to wait at attention

 

 

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out of corner of her eye my aunt saw him being dragged,

sobbing and shivering back into the line.

They continued on, Pixieman shuffling forward,

Eyes lowered, his shoelaces caked in mud,

Trembling, crying

His trembling continued until he died

Perhaps thankfully a day or two later

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History

My mother has no history,

Only labyrinths of possibilities,

radiating in time.

“What if, on the causeway ,

we had pulled Hensche with us,

and piled her a mound of gravel on which to stand,

propping her between our shoulders,

pinching her when the officer neared

to stand erect.

She might have lived.”

But instead my Mother and her sister sent her to the other side

to the children huddled about their Mother.

They said, go help Mama with the little ones,

look they are crying.

 

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“We didn’t know, we couldn’t know.”

But even so, could they have dragged Hensche from the furnace

Or would she have plunged all three to oblivion.

For in a place where death is immanent,

And survival a chance occurrence

There is no surety, there is no surety,

And destiny tempted turns easily vengeful.

The paths not taken are not overgrown with green

But alleyways of blackest cinder

Or burrows of swirling dusts,

Barbed and spiny.

And when memory allows

My mother travels these passages

And bows her head against  imagined blows.

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Seder Night, 1944 Birkenau

The firstborn of Velvel and Feige Gruen was spared on Passover Eve 5704,

But all her brothers and sisters were killed.

The firstborn of Lipa and Masha Tarnowicz was spared on Passover Eve 5704

But thousands of others exterminated.

Why the terrible deliverance of that night?

Why did the Angel of Death just stay, just stay

Was it that their prayers were whispered and not cried aloud.

Or that there was no hyssop in Auschwitz 1944,

And no blood,

Just ashes and smoke.

 

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Memento

I had wanted to bring a memento from Auschwitz

With which to remember those who died.

I picked up a fragment of brick, remembering that

Esther, a survivor had said, that if their mouths

Were not too parched,

They would moisten these,

to rub them on their cheeks,

the harsh ochre masking the pallor beneath

to hint at health and thus delay being chosen to die.

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Desolation’s Shadow – Second Generation Poetry by Martin Herskovitz - Ourboox.com
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