Thursday, January 26, 2017

72nd Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

On January 27, 1945, the Russian army came upon Auschwitz and its various camps and subcamps.  

What they found was terrible.

Afraid of anyone seeing what they had been doing in Auschwitz, the Germans went on a killing spree before the arrival of the Russians.  They also tried to blow up the ovens where the murdered had been burned for years.  

When the Russians arrived, they found corpses and 7000 starving prisoners.

A conservative estimate is that 1,000,000 people died there.  Two of the them were my mother's aunts, Polish girls who married two Jewish boys.  

Here is a poem I wrote about Auschwitz.  It is based on an incident Tadeusz Borowski, a survivor of Auschwitz, describes in his memoir This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I wrote the poem after a student at one of my readings asked me if I had one word for everything that happened in Auschwitz and the other German camps.

The word was fear.

The poem appears in my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues.  


During the war, there was only work and death.
The work broke you down, filled your stomach
with rocks and threw you in the river to drown.
The work shoved a bayonet up your ass
and twisted the blade till you were dead.

In the camps, there was only what we ate
and those we worked with—sometimes women.
But we never made love. I’ll tell you why.

Fear. I remember once a thousand men
were working a field with sticks, and trucks came
and dumped naked women in front of us.
Guards were whipping them to the ovens,
and the women screamed and cried to us, pleaded
with their arms stretched out—naked mothers,
daughters, and sisters, but not one man moved.

Not one. Fear will blind you, and tie you up
like nothing else. It’ll whisper, “Just stand still,
soon it will be over. Don’t worry, there’s nothing
you can do.” You will take this fear to the grave
with you. I can promise. And after the war,
it was the same. I saw things that were as bad
as what happened in the camps. I wish
I had had a gun there. I would have
pressed it here to my forehead, right here.
Better that than what I feel now. This fear.


Judith van Praag said...

Bless your brave heart.

John Guzlowski said...

thank you for reading.

Mary said...

John, I've read several of your blog posts and they've been enlightening to say the least. I am a Polish American both sets of great grandparents came to this country at the turn-of-the-century 1895-1898. I have been learning Polish history and was so shocked to learn just 10 years ago of the thousands and thousands, maybe millions, of Polish people who died at the hands of the Nazis, who were not Jewish!! I cannot believe this was not taught in school. In fact, when I have discussions with friends, most people are unaware of these facts. I'd like to learn more. Can you recommend books and/or articles?

John Guzlowski said...

Mary, thank you for stopping by. Not many people know about the terrible things that happened in Poland to all of its citizens, catholic and Jewish. I have seen figures that suggest that 1 out of 6 Poles died in the war. A book I strongly recommend is called Bloodlands. By Timothy Snyder. The Bloodlands were the area between Germany and Russia. Some historians argue that Stalin was worse than Hitler to the people of this region.