Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) begins in the evening of Wednesday, April 18, 2012, and ends in the evening of Thursday, April 19, 2012

I wrote the following blog a couple of years ago to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day

I can remember the Holocaust, but I can't do much more. I can't imagine it, I can't describe it, I can't understand it.

My parents weren't Jews. They weren't in the Holocaust. They were Polish Catholics who were taken to Germany to work as slave laborers in the concentration camps there. My dad spent four and a half years in Buchenwald, and my mom spent more than two years in a number of camps around Magdeburg. They suffered terribly, and they saw terrible things done to the people they loved. My mother's family was decimated. Her mother, her sister, and her sister's baby were killed outright by the Nazis. My mother's two aunts were taken to Auschwitz with their Jewish husbands and died there.

I remember asking my mother once if she could explain to me what she felt in the worst month of her worst year in the slave labor camps in Germany. All she could say was, you weren't there.

I wasn't there.

I've spent much of my life writing about the things that happened to my parents in the slave labor camps and reading about what happened in those camps and in the Nazi death camps in Poland where so many Jews died, and still I will never be able to understand or comprehend what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust.

I went to Auschwitz in 1990 with my wife Linda and our daughter Lillian. We walked around, took pictures, tried to imagine what had happened there. We couldn't. We were just tourists.

I wrote a poem about it:

Tourists in Auschwitz

It’s a gray drizzly day
but still we take pictures:

Here we are by the mountain of shoes.
Here we are by a statue of people
working to death
pulling a cart full of stones.

Here we are by the wall where they shot
the rabbis and the priests
and the school children
and the trouble makers.

We walk around some too
but we see no one.

Later, we will have dinner
in the cafeteria at Auschwitz.

We will eat off aluminum plates
with aluminum knives and forks.
The beans will be hard,
and the bread will be tasteless.

But for right now, we take more pictures:

Here we are by the mountain of empty suitcases.
Here we are in front of the big ovens.
Here we are by the gate with the famous slogan.

Here we are in front of the pond
where the water is still gray from the ashes
the Germans dumped.


Andi Shechter said...

I was searching for something to post on Facebook with some meaningful comment. What I found was your blog post with its wonderful writing and great poem. Thank you.
I shared it on Facebook. Hope that's okay.

John Guzlowski said...

Andi, thanks for stopping by and thank you for sharing the poem.

evapl said...

Your poem about Auschwitz made me feel so desolate. I felt the same desolation when I visited Auschwitz myself. Thank you for putting my feelings into words.

Wendy Miller said...

Finally figured out how to sign into your blog so I can say thank you for your blogs and for all you give. I'm a Catholic with an extended Jewish and Catholic family tree: Irish, Swedish, Eastern European, Russian roots, years of learning about, talking about the thirties and the Holocaust, then post-war antisemitism, Israel, the Palestine dilemma, on and on. There seem to be no answers but you pour your soul into your stories and ask such questions, you inspire me to keep searching. thank you for your presence and your gifts that you share.

John Guzlowski said...

Thanks for reading the post, Wendy. I'm not sure there are any answers but the heart does connect with those days, their sad stories.

Jeannette Dubrow said...

Dear Professor Guzlowski,

I read your poem and on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012 and was very moved by it. When we were posted in Poland as American diplomats the trips to Auschwitz with visiting American dignitaries were obligatory, as were the stops before the cases holding shoes, glasses, toys, etc. It was never less than devastating to see these relics.

You have written some wonderful things about the book From the Fever-World. The poet, Jehanne Dubrow, is my daughter and I would like to bring to your attention a concert being held by the Pilgrim Chamber Players in Highland Park on Sunday, May 13th at 3:00 P.M.

The Chamber Players commissioned the eminent Polish conductor and composer Joanna Bruzdowicz to compose a song cycle based on From the Fever-World. Sunday's concert will be the premiere of the work.

If you are in the area and are so inclined, do come to the concert. If nothing else, it will be good to hear and think of a time in Poland before the horror of the Holocaust had darkened Europe and the lives of those who survived.

Jehanne will be at the concert and I'm sure she will be happy to see you.

Thank you for your all postings and for remembering.

Jeannette Dubrow

John Guzlowski said...

Dear Ms. Dubrow, thank you for sharing this news about Jehanne's poems being performed this coming Sunday. I admire them and her work very much. I would love to come but I live in Virginia now.

I will let people in the area know about the event.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your blog and poems...
...especially the one about the stormy relationship of your parents 'Why My Mother Stayed With My Father'.

How similar to my own growing up, in New Zealand. My father survived all sorts of war-time escapades, and 18 months in Neuengamme slave labour camp near Hamburg. My mother survived the Warsaw Uprising and subsequent slavery in Germany, too.

They emigrated to New Zealand in 1950 with my sister and me after some lean post-war years in England. My main recollection of the tenor of life at home is of constant niggling and bickering punctuated by outbursts of ferocity that usually stopped short of actual violence, although crockery and furniture were often damaged. They eventually separated when I was 13, and my mother went to live, unhappily as ever, in Europe.

I've been Googling to see if there was any information about the few Poles who had escaped Poland and been in the Toulouse area of Vichy France. That is how I found my way to your blog.

My father Andrzej Fudakowski was picked up living in a town called Mirande by the Gestapo after being sent from England, ostensibly to help demobilise Polish troops who had made their way to that area during the war years, but primarily to liaise with resistance groups. When I was a child my father would take every opportunity to talk about war-time experiences with friends and visitors, which as children we found remote, repetitious and tedious. By the time I was of an age to take an adult interest he had talked himself out and left it behind. My mother never discussed her wartime experiences at all, except for the smallest of details, such as having to cross Warsaw by tram daily to a job. She would have seen the ghetto every day, at the age of 16.

I suppose families such as ours were/are similarly dysfunctional. The Polish community in New Zealand is not large, and anyway our father didn't want to end up like the others who as a clique wept quietly into their vodkas at Dom Polski on weekend nights. He detached himself from the Polish emigres and made efforts to become a Kiwi.

But enough of that. Thanks for the poems.
Mike Fudakowski (age 63)
New Zealand

John Guzlowski said...

Mike, thank you for your letter. Your father and mother sound like mine. While my mother seldom spoke about the past, my father spent so much time talking about what happened during the war that sometimes my mother would plead with him to not say any more. It wasn't until after my dad died that my mom started talking about the war. It was as if she left the burden of witnessing to my father as long as she could. Then picked up the responsibility until her death. Often, she would ask me to take out a pad of paper to write down stories she didn't want to be forgotten.

Up4 Dawes said...

We can never know.We can see the footprints and where they came from and how they got there thats the most important thing to remember for us.. for them