Auschwitz: Images and Words

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"Macht" is the conjugated German verb, "to make". It is also a noun: "Power".

“Macht” is the conjugated German verb, “to make or render.”  It is also a noun: “Power.”

Our group, entering the camp.

Our group, entering the camp

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Who Says
Julia Hartwig
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

While the innocents were being massacred who says
that flowers didn’t bloom, that the air didn’t breathe bewildering
scents
that birds didn’t rise to the heights of their most accomplished
songs
that young lovers didn’t twine in love’s embraces
But would it have been fitting if a scribe of the time had shown
this
and not the monstrous uproar on the street drenched with blood
the wild screams of the mothers with infants torn from their arms
the scuffling, the senseless laughter of soliders
aroused by the touch of women’s bodies and young breast warm
with milk
Flaming torches tumbled down stone steps
there seemed no hope of rescues
and violent horror soon gave way to the still more awful
numbness of despair
At that moment covered by the southern night’s light shadow
a bearded man leaning on a staff
and a girl with a child in her arms
were fleeing lands ruled by the cruel tyrant
carrying the world’s hope to a safer place
beneath silent stars in which these events
had been recorded centuries ago.

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 Prisoners' collected belongings – here, prosthetics.

Prisoners’ collected belongings.  Here, prosthetics

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Massacre of the Boys
Tadeusz Rozewicz
Translated from the Polish by Adam Czerniawski

The children cried, “Mummy!
But we have been good!
It’s dark in here! Dark!”

See them They are going to the bottom
See the small feet
they went to the bottom Do you see
that print
of a small foot here and there

pockets bulging
with string and stones
and little horses made of wire

A great plain closed
like a figure of geometry
and a tree of black smoke
a vertical
dead tree
with no star in its crown.

[The Museum, Auschwitz, 1948]

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Death Block, where prisoners were hanged or brought before the execution wall within a gated courtyard

Death Block, where prisoners were hanged or brought before the execution wall within a gated courtyard

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Execution wall with memorial stones and prayer papers

Execution wall with memorial stones and prayer papers

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It was odd and uncomfortable to walk out of that execution courtyard

The strangeness of walking out of that execution courtyard

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Passion of Ravensbrück
Janos Pilinsky
Translated from the Hungarian by Janos Csokits and Ted Hughes

He steps out from the others.
He stands in the square silence.
The prison garb, the convict’s skull
blink like projection.

He is horribly alone.
His pores are visible.
Everything about him is so gigantic,
everything is so tiny.

And this is all.
The rest–––
the rest was simply
that he forgot to cry out
before he collapsed.

Lock on door to bunker with gas chambers and furnaces

Lock on door to bunker with gas chambers and furnaces

Observation hole in door to bunker

Observation hole in door to gassing and burning bunker

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Leaving. . .

Leaving. . .

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

16 thoughts on “Auschwitz: Images and Words

    • Jennifer- I’m grateful you’ve come by. I’ll mention it in the next post, but April 8th, as you know, is National Holocaust Observance Day, and April is National Poetry Month. I managed to arrive at Auschwitz in the blog just in time, and the effect for me has been draining. Again.

      Beyond belief, yes.

  1. so much. few things can carve such niches in our existence, and leave the same horrored ache in our souls each time we study them as the first time we, young and bewildered, realize they exist.

  2. How did you stand being there? My husband and I visited Salem, Massachusetts years ago and couldn’t stand it. I felt the same way when I visited The Alamo. Some things just have a strong spiritual presence, even years later.

    Nancy

    • Nancy: I actually feel, as strange or perhaps as morbid as it might sound, a profound sense of reverence and love in these places. However drenched with pure evil such places are (and I know they are; I’ve studied maybe too much of the literature – private journals, war criminal case proceedings, poetry and plays), I also feel unspeakable tenderness and respect for those who survived hell with only a fiber or two of dignity remaining, and didn’t become devils and animals themselves. I couldn’t live on the grounds, nor could I live in the town, I don’t think, because I’d fear the impact would become dulled, ordinary, casual, mundane. You know what I am trying to say?

      I completely agree: there are places and things that have a powerful spiritual presence. I feel those things, too. Other readers have commented on the same thing. .

      Thanks again, Nancy–M

  3. Melissa, I click on “Like” not out of any appreciation for the content of this post, rather, for my appreciation that you share what must be shared of this excruciatingly dark period in history, that which must continue to be shared lest we forget, lest mankind would lapse ever again back into that darkest time. I recall so vividly studying Auschwitz in high school history and in my youth it was all so surreal, so unconscionable. To this day I am sickened, ashamed for humanity that would commit such atrocities.

    To this day the deliberation on this subject, its recounting, its articulation in textual recall and in particular any such visual representation makes me feel sick to my stomach and I fight back the urge to openly weep for the victims and their survivors. There are states in America that send serial killers of demented premeditated murder to their like demise by lethal injection or electric chair. That is a subject entirely separate from your own and I only reflect in this moment that had I lived in that time I likely would have felt the uncontrollable desire for revenge. An eye for an eye would have been my only just conviction…but then again, would I have been any better than they?

    Recent history reveals that such monstrous criminals have been found out and served justice of the day. I spent my last five years operating retirement residences and I have come to know survivors of this very tragedy among others of that era. They could not bear to voice their experiences in any detail…it was their trembling, their burning tears that conveyed all and more than I wished to know. Their loved ones were exterminated, eliminated, snuffed out, eradicated as a plague.

    Remembrance day would signal a solemn yet formal assembly with full protocol recognized by veterans among those elderly residents. The scars of their past were as open wounds that never healed. They and their children and grandchildren would quietly take their place in the crowded dining room and overflowing out into the adjacent foyer. The recorded piper would intone a lament that brought tears of painful recall and release. There would be prayer, recitation of proclamations, heads bowed in respect and hymns sung dutifully, resolutely. Moistened eyes and faltering voices decried a bitterness of their pain, suffering, anguish and endurance. They had survived though some would sadly reflect that living through and beyond those darkest of hours was as painful as death itself, little dignity nor reason in carrying such a crushing burden for all their years.

    I held their hands, embraced them, looked deep into darkened, hollow eyes past the pain, the fragility, the fear, the torment…to a glimmer that shone, though barely, from a place close to their heart, mind and soul. They would wipe away tears, smile with a courage I could not muster…and quietly step away to rest, to reflect…to remember.

  4. Dear Melissa,

    I was Sister Young, companion to Sister Lenhart, when we met in Warsaw right around the time you wrote this post. Thank you for writing this, experiencing this, and showing me that I could experience it as well. I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the camps during my mission. (I’m grateful for this because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to give myself the time to emotionally prepare or recover from the experience before proselytizing again.) However, I know I will have this experience one day. When that day comes, I must do it as you have done: with scraps of poetry. I believe that, despite Adorno’s doubts on the subject, the best way to deal with Auschwitz and the like is through poetry. So thank you for the post, the poetry, and the processing you’ve enabled me to experience.

    -Katie

    P.S. I find it very interesting that Maria and Czesława’s last name, “Krajewski,” is related to the Polish word for country, “kraj,” as in one’s motherland, as in we always bought jabłki krajowe because the best apples were grown in the country where they were sold. I think this fits this final experience of Maria and Czesława as they were robbed of their country, their life, and their potential experiences. This is what Hitler did to the country, the continent, and to millions of individuals just like Maria i Czesława Krajewski. This is what I know the country they were from remembers and memorializes in as many ways as possible.

    • Dear Katie: Reading your words while sitting in my hotel room in Prague is an especially moving experience. This place, too, was ravaged in WWII, its citizens dragged through a generation of horror and reconstruction. They are reconstructing, still. What a beautiful place and people, as are Poland and the Poles.

      I remember in detail our visit to you in that little congregation in Warsaw.Thank you for remembering, too, and for coming here to establish contact and leave meaningful thoughts. “Krajewski” – rooted etymologically and spiritually in “country.” Fascinating and stirring. And when you write that poetry, I hope I will be allowed to read it. . .?

      Thank you again for these words, and also for your selfless service devoted to the Polish people.

      With affection–

      -Melissa

  5. Thanks for this. I’m a Methodist reformer and evangelist, who recently preached and taught in Poland. I visited Auschwitz and took pictures of the Krajewska twins. I was especially haunted by them, for they resemble our youngest daughter when she was that age. In junior high I read my first book on the Holocaust. I asked my dad (a WW2 vet), “That couldn’t happen today, could it?” and will never forget his answer: “Sure it can. In any generation you can find people who are willing to be as cruel as the law allows.” Whenever humankind decides it knows better than God on what is moral and what is immoral, it is in danger of repeating this, or some remade version of it.

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