Holocaust Remembrance Day

A Selection of Poems from the Holocaust

FFOZ Israel Staff

Israel

Hayim Gouri Holocaust Martin Niemöller poems Primo Levi

This year on April 12, Israel will take time to remember those who were lost in the Holocaust. We’ve collected some poems from people who experienced the horror first hand. Let not this day go by without pausing to consider the losses of that tragic time.

Title: Shema

Author: Primo Levi

You who live secure
In your warm houses,
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Primo Levi, a Jewish-Italian poet and writer, was born in Turin in 1919. Before the Second World War he was an industrial chemist. In 1943, he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where he survived due to his “usefulness” to the Nazis as a chemist. His most famous prose work is “If This Is a Man,” in which he wrote about his experiences in Auschwitz. Haunted by his Holocaust experiences, he committed suicide in 1987.

Title: Heritage

Author: Hayim Gouri

The ram came last of all. And Abraham
did not know that it came to answer the
boy's question—first of his strength
when his day was on the wane.
The old man raised his head.
Seeing that it was no dream and that the angel
stood there - the knife slipped from his hand.

The boy, released from his bonds,
saw his father's back.

Isaac, as the story goes, was not
sacrificed. He lived for many years,
saw what pleasure had to offer
until his eyesight dimmed.

But he bequeathed that hour to his offspring.
They are born with a knife in their hearts.

Hayim Gouri, a Hebrew poet, was born in Israel in 1923. He served in the Palmach, Haganah, and Israeli Defense Forces, and after the Second World War was sent to Europe, where he visited Displaced Persons’ Camps. His poetry covers a broad range of subjects, some intensely personal, reflecting his experiences during the Second World War and the Israeli War of Independence.

Title: First They Came for the Jews

Author: Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Martin Niemöller: Niemöller was a German pastor and theologian born in Germany in 1892. Originally a supporter of Hitler’s policies, he eventually opposed them. He was arrested and eventually confined in the concentration Sachsenhausen and Dachau camps. He was liberated by the allies in 1945 and continued his career in Germany as a clergyman and as a noted pacifist.

*Poems and material taken from yadvashem.org

Israel

Hayim Gouri Holocaust Martin Niemöller poems Primo Levi

Inside Auschwitz concentration camp (Photo by Erica Magugliani on Unsplash)

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