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Visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau, 5 January 2013

The end of the line

Bent trees emerge like painful growths from brown earth
Where patches of snow still lie
In proof that this is

What I thought of as my self
Vanishes to a cloud
In the grey sky
A mystery

This is true emptiness
Sucked out from the inside
Hollow, faceless

The crimes that were committed here are horrors
For which I have no words
Nor understanding

The true miracle
Is that any living being survived

And yet some defied
The lice
The rats
The cold
Mass extermination

And some escaped

Who were these people
Of whom remains
A pile of shoes
A heap of hair
Baby clothes
Suitcases carefully inscribed
With addresses
To which few would ever return?

Stand still and you can feel the beating hearts
Of all who lived and died here
In the dark chamber
Breathe in the walls
Where thousands found their final moments
Without air
A fear that chokes

And the ovens

Deprived of basic human rights
Beaten, bullied
Butchered like animals
In this functional hell

Still seeds of resilience were sown
Watered with tears, sweat
Flowers of courage flourished

And some escaped

Hope was felt
Love was felt
And sometimes, excruciating joy
Like a knife between the ribs

Even with so much force
They could not break everyone –
A monument to us all to live proud,
Be kind, stand strong

And so this person I once knew as I
Dissolves again into a modern world
Of mobile phones, coloured lights and shopping centres
History has never seemed so far

And yet the mind is quiet, still
As the grave
Thoughts come and go
The body, heavy
Moves more slowly than before

Outside a fresh wind hits my face like a welcome smile

I am alive
You are alive
We are alive


10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on yasniger and commented:
    I wonder why we still refer to them as concentration camps?
    These were extermination camps.

    January 4, 2013
    • poetjena #

      yasinger… a ‘concentrated extinction’ … might I tentatively venture…

      January 5, 2013
      • one of the most horrifying aspects is the level of order and organisation. a deliberately calculated operation to obliterate an entire race.

        January 5, 2013
  2. So much weight in your words.

    January 4, 2013
  3. Having had the honor of meeting one of the few survivors of Auschwitz, I thank you for this post…never forget…be encouraged!

    January 4, 2013
    • Thanks Stephen – I hope to go back there at some point as I know some of the survivors give talks there. Am now reading survivor Halina Birenbaum’s excellent book ‘Hope is the Last to Die.’

      January 5, 2013
      • The lady I spoke about is one of those who gives talks there…I would share her name with you, but Andy the I Meant It Nicely Kitty is helping me look for it, so it make take some time…as soon as I find it I’ll send it your way…be encouraged!

        January 6, 2013
  4. Larry English #

    My dearest childhood friends father survived…..remember the numbers tattooed on his arm….such a warm, sweet man and father….I dont think any of us can really feel the reality of what it must have been like…..thank God for that!

    January 5, 2013
    • Thanks Larry, it is indeed impossible for us to imagine a reality of living in constant terror. But amazing that some could survive, and that the human spirit could not be broken.

      January 5, 2013

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