Poetry Porch: Forgiveness


From Five Holocaust Memories
by Charles Fishman

A German Witness (April 1945)

She was living with her parents outside of Munich.
One day, her mother had sent her to obtain some cheese,
and she was heading back along the country road
that was filled to the brim with fleeing civilians and soldiers.
She had been thinking about her father, the industrialist,
and about how their cheese was paid for.

Then she rounded a curve in the road and saw the prisoners:
they were guarded by SS men and leaned against a wall.
She could see that these were, in fact, skeletons, wrapped
in a skin of black-and-white-striped cloth: the cloth was threadbare
and the bones showed through. She knew they were prisoners
but didn't understand what their crime was . . .

and she thought of the cheese, white and creamy, growing riper
in her rucksack. She thought of giving the cheese to these shadows,
for their eyes held her, and she opened her sack and reached in.
The cheese emerged in her hand with the power of sunlight.

And the first ones came crawling. They crawled to her,
and she fed them until the grave of Munich called her.


A Dutch Witness (May 1940)

Her father was a judge and taught her
the Dutch tradition of offering refuge.
One day, on her way to school in Holland,
the sky, which was clear and blue in Amsterdam,
darkened. She saw a truck parked near a home
for Jewish children, and there were German men,
in uniforms, laughing and joking. What a pleasure it was
to be a conqueror! She saw that these soldiers
were lifting the children by their legs, by their skinny arms,
and by their hair, and throwing them into the truck.
It was a sunny day, nine o’clock in the morning,
a fine hour to walk to school . . . but they were
stealing the children who already had been saved.
She saw that, for these men, who harbored no child
in their hearts, murder would be easy.
And she knew she would climb onto the truck:
she would honor her father’s words.
She would rescue children.


A Czech Survivor (Auschwitz, June 1944)

Her father’s last words to her: If you survive, keep
your principles. He was killed when they arrived
at Auschwitz, but she would remember his words.

These are her words to us: Auschwitz . . . there is
there has not beenthere has not been . . .
When the sun came up it was not the sun . . . it was
always red    always black     it never said, never was life.
It was destruction.

Copyright © 1997 by Charles Fishman. Used with permission of Charles Fishman.

These poems are based on excerpts from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University Library.