Monday, January 23, 2023

78th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

On January 27, 1945, the Soviet 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, available from Amazon.  


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.

The painting is by my friend Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk from his series of paintings of Dante’s Divine Comedy

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