Sunday, February 21, 2010

Art in the Holocaust

I've been invited to speak at the Art in the Holocaust Conference at Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan.

Here's the list of events planned for this conference. Click on each topic for further information.

Art in the Holocaust Series


“Children of the Holocaust” Exhibit by Miriam Brysk


John Guzlowski: Poetry Reading


Art in the Holocaust Panel Presentation & Discussion


Miriam Brysk: “Children of the Holocaust” Artist Presentation


Helen Degen Cohen: Poetry Reading


The above painting is by Miriam Brysk.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Poems of the Poles Who Were Taken to Siberia

February marks the 70th anniversary of mass deportations of Poles to Soviet prison camps in Siberia and other places in the USSR. Some 155,000 Poles were forced to work and live under dangerous conditions. Of those deported, only about 8,000 ever returned to Poland after the war.

Halina Ablamowicz has translated -- along with Kevin Christianson -- poems written by the Poles who were taken to Siberia and collected them in a book entitled Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags.

She has allowed me to publish three of them here in both English and the original Polish:

TO MY FELLOW POLES/Anna Rudawcowa (Sybir 1941)

A wicked fate cast us onto the steppes of Kazakhstan
A wicked fate forced us into exile into a world
Where each heart is an open wound,
Where each moment lasts for years on end.
A ghastly train took us across rivers
And across the serrated range of the Urals,
Our Homeland’s smile -- sad and distant
Grew paler and paler, and finally went out.
Life caught us in its iron gears,
In its steel wheels, entangled us in silver rails.
A host of exiles cast into Sybir
For a grave sin that was not committed.
No need for tears! No need for words of grievances,
Because each complaint will grate on the ear. . .
Oh my fellow Poles! People without a Homeland!
The night shall pass, and after it dawn will come!

DO BRACI/Anna Rudawcowa (Sybir 1941)

Zły los rzucił nas w stepy Kazachstanu
Zły los nas wygnał na tułaczkę w świat,
Gdzie każde serce jest otwartą raną,
Gdzie każda chwila jest szeregiem lat.
Upiorny pociąg wiózł nas poprzez rzeki
I przez Uralskich gór zębaty pas,
Ojczyzny uśmiech- smutny i daleki
Bladł coraz bardziej, wreszcie zgasł.
Złapało życie w swe żelazne tryby,
W stalowe koła, sploty srebrnych szyn.
Wygnańców tłum, rzuconych tu na Sybir
Za ciężki grzech nie popełnionych win.
Nie trzeba łez! Nie trzeba slów ni wyznań,
Bo każda skarga zabrzmi tu jak zgrzyt. . .
O bracia moi! Ludzie bez Ojczyzny!
Przeminie noc, a po niej przyjdzie świt!

LONELY GRAVE/Zofia Metelicka

In far off Siberia there is a lonely grave
Flower blossoms lean over it
While the rustling of the steppe’s tall grasses
Brings the quiet sound of grief with the wind.

To look for a cross or a name would be in vain
Nobody remembers whose grave this is
Many years ago flowers were placed there
And a memory lived in minds and hearts.

Those who preserved the memory in their hearts
Have returned to their distant Homeland
But their happiness was not complete, for a part
Of their souls they left behind upon the steppe.

Every year always on that same November Day
When votive candles are lighted in cemeteries
In their thoughts and hearts they’ll be there at the grave
Even though the clock of time has obscured its image.

On a sunny summer day perhaps someone young
Will stop and place a small flower there
And in reflection send a sigh to God while whispering
A prayer in the wind’s hushed sound.

SAMOTNA MOGIŁA/Zofia Metelicka

W dalekiej Syberii samotna mogiła
Nad nią się chylą kwiatów kielichy
A szum wysokiej trawy stepowej
Niesie wraz z wiatrem żalu głos cichy.

Na próżno by szukać krzyża lub imenia
Nikt nie pamięta czyja to mogiła
Przed wielu latami składano tu kwiaty
I pamięć w sercach i umysłach żyła.

Ci co tę pamięć w sercach zachowali
Do swojej dalekiej Ojczyzny wrócili
Lecz niezupełnie byli szczęśliwi
Bo cząstkę swej duszy w stepie zostawili.

Zawsze co roku w dzień listopadowy
Kiedy zapłoną na cmentarzach znicze
Myślą i sercem będą tam przy grobie
Choć zegar czasu przesłonił oblicze.

Być może ktoś młody w letni dzień słoneczny
Przystanie i kwiatek położy w zadumie
A potem do Boga pośle westchnienie
Szepcząc modlitwę w cichym wiatru szumie.

APRIL 13/Anna Rudawcowa

On the night of April 13...The world collapsed
And a new completely different horrible world was born
When in darkness a brutal paw outstretched
Destroyed our nest – our family home.

A knock on the door... Clenched and cunning,
Importunate hands yank the doorknob…
A flash of consciousness: this is the end, the end!
A quiet prayer “Defend us, O Mother of God.”

Thud of heavy boots... A flashlight flickers
In the window and then goes away...
In their little beds the awakened children cry,
And their hearts pound, pound, like hammers.

This child’s eyes insane with fear − pale trembling lips, frantic!
A shout in Russian from the other side of the door:
“Open up! This is the Soviet government.”
And the thought: all’s lost…no use trying...we’re done for…!

Now they’re inside the apartment − smiling, polite,
But something lurks in the depths of their eyes
And the heart senses danger −
The intended blow will fall any second.

13 KWIECIEŃ/Anna Rudawcowa

Noc trzynastego kwietnia…Świat się zapadł
I powstał nowy, straszny, całkiem inny
Gdy wyciągnięta w mroku chamska łapa
Zburzyła gniazdo nasze – dom rodzinny.

Stukanie do drzwi…Natarczywe dłonie
Za klamkę szarpią chytre i spreżone…
Blask świadomości: to już koniec, koniec!
Modlitwa cicha “Pod Twoją Obronę.”

Łomot buciorów ciezkich …W okno świeci
Błyskiem latarki i odchodzi potem…
W łóżeczkach płaczą obudzone dzieci,
A serca biją, biją im jak młotem.

Te obłąkane strachem oczy dziecka,
Usteczka drżące, nieprzytomne, blade!
Za drzwiami okrzyk: ”Atkroj! Zdieś właść sowiecka!”
I myśl: skończone…trudno…nie ma rady!

Już są w mieszkaniu – uśmiechnięci, grzeczni
I tylko w oczach czai się coś na dnie,
A serce czuje, że jest niebezpiecznie –
Cios wymierzony lada chwila spadnie.


Dr. Halina Ablamowicz is Professor of Speech Communication at Tennessee Tech University where she teaches courses in public speaking, persuasion, semiotics, intercultural and interpersonal communication. Her book Polish Poetry from the Soviet Gulags: Recovering a Lost Literature, published in 2008 by Edwin Mellon Press (USA), focuses on the horrific experiences of the Sybiracy -- the nearly two million innocent Poles who were deported by Stalin to Soviet gulags between 1940 and 1941. This book contains twenty-five poems written by Polish deportees translated into English in collaboration with Kevin Christianson.

She and Dr. Christianson collaborated on several other Polish -to-English translation projects including a bilingual edition of Andrzej Bursa’s poems-- Wybór Wierszy / Selected Poems published in 2008 by Art-Park (Poland). Their translated poetry have appeared in New Letters, The Formalist, The Minnesota Review, Damn the Caesars, The Sarmatian Review, New American Writing, Guernica, The Bitter Oleander, Home Planet News, Passport, Poetry International, The Ohio Review, Stand, and The London Magazine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Valentine's Day: Why My Mom Stayed with My Dad

My parents met in a concentration camp in Germany toward the end of World War II.

My mom had been brought to Germany by the Nazis to work in a slave labor camp. The day she was captured she saw her mom and her sister and her sister's baby killed by German soldiers. My mom was crying so much when she got to the camp that one of the guards said if she didn't stop crying they would shoot her.

Near the end of the war, my dad and some other slave laborers were brought to my mom's camp by German guards who were escaping the Russians. The Germans left him there and fled toward the American lines. When my mom saw my dad, he was a scarecrow in rags. He weighed about 70 pounds and had only one eye. He had lost the other when a guard clubbed him for begging for food.

She was 23, he was 25. She had been a slave for 2 years, he had been one for 4.

They met in that camp, and after liberation they did what a lot of people did. First, they had something to eat, and then they got married.

It was a hell of a marriage. They fought and argued for the next 50 years -- even on Sunday mornings -- and even on Christmas Day.

It got so bad at times that -- after we came to America -- my sister and I would plead with my parents to get a divorce.

They never did. When my dad died in 1997, they were still married. 52 years.

When I was about 57 or 58, I started wondering why they didn't get a divorce, why they stayed together through all the misery they put each other through. The answer to that question became a poem in my book about them, Lightning and Ashes. The poem is called "Why My Mother Stayed with My Father."

Why My Mother Stayed with My Father

She knew he was worthless the first time
she saw him in the camps: his blind eye,
his small size, the way his clothes carried
the smell of the dead men who wore them before.

In America she learned he couldn’t fix a leak
or drive a nail straight. He knew nothing
about the world, the way the planets moved,
the tides. The moon was just a hole in the sky,

electricity a mystery as great as death.
The first time lightning shorted the fuses,
he fell to his knees and prayed to Blessed Mary
to bring back the miracle of light and lamps.

He was a drunk too. Some Fridays he drank
his check away as soon as he left work.
When she’d see him stagger, she’d knock him down
and kick him till he wept. He wouldn’t crawl away.

He was too embarrassed. Sober, he’d beg
in the bars on Division for food or rent
till even the drunks and bartenders
took pity on this dumb polack.

My father was like that, but he stayed
with her through her madness in the camps
when she searched among the dead for her sister,
and he stayed when it came back in America.

Maybe this was why my mother stayed.
She knew only a man worthless as mud,
worthless as a broken dog would suffer
with her through all of her sorrow.


If you want to read more about my parents, you can check out a couple of the blogs here that talk mostly about them. One is called DPs in the Polish Triangle about what my mom and dad were like when they got to America. The other is called The Wooden Trunk We Carried With Us From Germany.

Just click on the above titles, and it will take you right to them.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Waiting to Be Heard: Lilka Croydon-Trzcinska

In her book Waiting To Be Heard: The Polish Christian Experience Under Nazi and Stalinist Oppression 1939-1955, Bogusia Wojciechowska brings together the stories of many Poles who experienced Nazi and Stalinist brutality.

One of the most moving stories is that of Lilka Croydon-Trzcinska. She was still in high school when the Nazis invaded, and she and her sisters and brother joined the Polish Resistance. For her activities, the Nazis sent her first to Auschwitz and then to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After the war, she wrote about her experiences in a book entitled The Labyrinth Of Dangerous Hours: A Memoir Of The Second World War (with a forward by historian Norman Davies).

Dr. Bogusia Wojciechowska has allowed me to post a video of part of her interview with Lilka Croydon-Trzcinska.


To read my earlier post on Waiting to Be Heard click here.