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Narratives of Silence – Second Generation Poems

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

 

There are two types of silences. Sometimes we are silent because words intrude. But mostly we are silent because we cannot find the words to say. We have no feeling or opinion. Or we are overwhelmed by emotion and words escape us. As in the poem above, the poet wants to remember but is unable to find memory and thus the silence which is meant to commemorate, cannot. The first and only time that I visited Auschwitz it was with an organized tour. They asked that we walk silently from the Auschwitz train station to the Birkenau camp in silence. I had lived my whole life in silence, for me the visit to Auschwitz was a time to find words, not to be silent. I had no memories to think about while I walked. No sense of family in this place.

1

I wanted to find their place among the wooden barracks and the scattered bricks of the shattered crematoria. But I needed words not silence in order to commemorate my family:

But if a voice can rise from the desolation,

To parse therewith a syntax of the pain.

Then words entombed shall resurgent flow

Words whose tears may heal the soul again

(Ineffable, Martin Herskovitz)

 

Via the creative process I was able to find the words, to express the pain and to mourn and thus to process the traumatic memory that is the Holocaust.

2

 

 

Silence without connection to memory is not commemoration. It is only when the silence can be wedded to real emotion does the silence have any commemorative weight. We have given the coming generation the historical facts to the Holocaust but are failing to connect them emotionally to the Holocaust.

 

This book of poems is my attempt to create a narrative out of the silence, to bring my past to life so as better to mourn. I hope it will help you the reader to connct to a new reality of the Holocaust, a Holocaust not of horrors and fear but of connection, caring and ultimately grieving.

 

3

Unknown/Unowned

If, as the Rabbis say,

Each life has a meaning,

Then each death should have its meaning too.

A tear, a shiver

A murmur

Of Blessed Memory

After a name.

Even just a glimpse of a memory

Like the flicker of a lamp.

But a death unmourned,

Unnoted

Is a cruelty that never should have been created,

It is a cruelty beyond flames,

Beyond dust

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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur Eve

I shut  myself up in the bedroom and

take out the photographs

From before the Holocaust.

Neighbors and relatives

Who were probably murdered,

My mother doesn’t exactly know.

Some of the names I knew and forgot,

And some I never knew

Because she stopped talking,

And the next few middle of the nights I heard her in the hallways

And the rattling of the tea kettle in the kitchen.

So I don’t want to ask her again.

6

 

I just take out the pictures now,

And prop them up on my bed

To ask for their forgiveness that I haven’t mourned so well .

But maybe not

Because forgiveness means regret and change,

But I’m only doing the best I am able

and I can’t regret that.

And as far as change I don’t think things will be any different next year.

7

But if they can forgive,

then they can also love

and know the responsibility of being loved.

So maybe they can understand,

I ask for that.

Because on Yom Kippur the High Priest

Sacrificed two goats

One for his family

And another, the scapegoat

for them,

the multitude.

There are supposed to be two

And I am but one.

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Unmourned

It is a time of mourning in Israel
Grandparents mourn their grandchildren
And children their parents.
An entire country versed in mourning
Except for me.
Amid the mourners’ wails
my grandparents hold their faces earthbound
To catch some of the tears deemed for others.
Tears they have never known for all died with them,

except a few.

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And those feared to not cease crying,

So they never started..
They long to be mourned
But I who have never known their embrace, cannot.

I cry not rivulets,

but meager tears,

which can rinse no sorrow.

But I know their pain
In me their sadness has interred.
This too is a link

and it will have to suffice, as yet.

It is a time of mourning and I sit among the unmourned.

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Photographs

 

1

My cousin Haim Stern returned to Serednye after the war

Took the key from the neighbor

To return shortly, a shoebox under his arm

And he strode toward the tree grove.

The bonfire in the grove burnt the photographs well

as he stood over the curling pictures, prodding them deeper into the flames

the nitrate smoke burnt his eyes.

He sat in the clearing till the embers died down, then freed, left for America

his spare set of shoes now in the shoebox.

13

2

My father has put away the pictures from before the war and he can’t find them.

But I think that he put away the pictures so he won’t find them.

What good are those pictures, he says, they were all blurry

and in the posed pictures they all look like statues

Better we should take pictures of our wonderful grandchildren, not blurry and in color.

Let’s finish the roll and in an hour we’ll have new pictures. Much better

 

 

 

14

3

I don’t have any pictures of my uncles who died in Auschwitz

not that it would help much.

My Uncle Meshulam died when he was 4 years old.

I would feel pretty silly holding a picture of a four year old

and saying this is my uncle.

It is hard for me to imagine that I had a family at all.

I’m not a god that can create a family out of motes of dust.

4

Whenever I would ask about the Holocaust my parents changed the subject saying,

“You have to put the past behind if you want to go forward.”

After 45 years of all sorts of directions, I am beginning to doubt their words.

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Eclipse

How did I know about the Holocaust

Amidst the silence.

Or was the knowing enciphered on my soul

Trickling, in time, to  my consciousness.

Knowing  that is never taught

Can never be unlearned,

Can never be forgotten.

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Silence

My mother has never spoke of what happened during the War,

and probably never will.

Her aunt made a video

And she spoke about the camps.

So the story has been told, she thinks

her pain untold.

She says the essence of her anguish

has been expressed by others of millions of times

only the words differ

Such that only her silence is truly hers.

I who have been wounded by mere silence,

fear her words and allow her her silence

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Names

My mother’s father was named Mordechai Kleinbart

But maybe, because he was the eldest son,

His mother called him Tateleh,

And his father probably called him Mordkhe

like my father called me.

His sister and brothers called him, perhaps, Moti

Except for the baby sister who called him Momo

Even after she grew up.

His wife’s cousins at the winery may have called him Kleiny

And his children surely called him Tati

As did his wife,

Except late at night, alone in the bedroom

She would maybe call to him with Yiddish familiars

In a soft erotic lilt.

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Or maybe not,

Because Mordechai Kleinbart is the single name I have

And it alone is carved into stone

and molded into  bronze.

All the other names exist only in memories long interred

Or on pages yet unwritten.

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Names and Stories

Some of us have only names.

Names are good for reading at memorial services

and putting on bronze plaques in the synagogue

next to a flickering bulb,

which is almost as good as mourning.

Some of us have stories without names.

Names have been removed from the story like fangs

so that it can no longer hurt the storyteller.

So I am destined to tell the story over and over again

Unsatisfied.

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Sometimes I feel like putting the names in column A

and the stories in column B,

like the test we took in grade school

  1. George Washington and c. first President of the United States,

drawing a line between the story and the name

So every story has a name and each name a story.

And on Remembrance Day I can feel I am mourning a real person

not just a name without a past

or a story without an identity.

 

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And I can hope that the tears fall more freely.

But if I match imperfectly

I have mourned a fiction

a phantom who existed only in my manipulations

and I have wasted the day.

 

Or do the dead know how to lift the tears

from the page on which they have fallen

and carry them in cupped palms

to their proper page.

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Mints

When I asked about her grandfather,

My mother said he gave his grandchildren mints,

Then silence.

Not if the mints were azure blue or white,

Not the peppery scent of their breaths,

Not of the toddler’s cries because he would not get,

Just mints.

It is left for me to imagine my uncles crunching impatiently

the hard candy when they tired of letting it dissolve

as I would, a generation on.

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Ergo Sum

The relatives who died “in the war”

have faded in and out of our lives.

Not alive, not even the littlest bit alive,

but then not dead,

gone or lost in the war.

Maybe once or twice mentioned as dead or killed,

but this is stated

with such dispassion

that it seems not true.

 

30

But these wraiths neither alive nor dead

have a prevalence beyond persons here or gone.

So I am going to Auschwitz

to give them life,

to find them within the ledgers and the Lagers

within the piles of shoes,

within  the ashes.

For you cannot be destroyed unless you were once alive.

So amongst the destruction I will prove their existence,

like a latter-day Descartes,

“You were killed

therefore you were“

and I will grieve.

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Ineffable

In the face of the ineffable

There can be no words, they say,

Only silence.

But my life has been measured by decades of silence,

Not mere kilometers.

So the crunch of flagstones,

The swirl of winds,

Even the tears

are no stead.

 

33

In Auschwitz silence will not suffice.

For when words return,

they return as they were,

Like seeds scattered on the frozen ground.

But if  words can rise from the desolation,

To parse therewith a syntax of the pain.

Then words entombed shall resurgent flow

Words whose tears may heal the soul again

 

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Narratives of Silence – Second Generation Poems by Martin Herskovitz - Ourboox.com

Tears

The souls of the dead lie dormant

under the filmy wrapping of the years

in anticipation

like a who child hides beneath a blanket waits

to be discovered .

Our cries of protest do not move them

nor do our tears of indignation,

they huddle tighter at the bolts of anger .

 

36

But when we whisper their names

and cry tears of longing that they have yet to know.

Then the warmth of the tears caresses their foreheads

and they blink open their eyes,

astonished

and stir themselves, loosening their limbs,

to fly down to our dreams

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