András Mezei

Three Holocaust poems translated from the Hungarian

András Mezei (b. 1930), a Holocaust survivor, is a major Jewish-Hungarian poet. These pieces are from his collected works (Treble/Hármaskönyv, Budapest City Press, March 2007).


When the children were torn from their mothers,
and the ghetto was searched for tiny creatures
left in hiding, and the cries and the screams
were drowned by loudspeakers blaring out lullabies,
and the children were crammed into lorries, a German
soldier turned to one pleading mother,
How many children have you?
and she replied, I have three -
then he said, You may take back one of them
and helped her on board the vehicle
to choose one, as three pairs of eyes lit up
and three pairs of arms expectantly opened
towards her: Mother, take me, me, me!
According to an eyewitness, she
declined the choice. She left alone.
How many children have you?
She informs God, I have three!


The people stripped off their garments.
They did not weep, they did not shout.
They did not beg for mercy.
A gray-haired woman standing by
the freshly dug hole in the ground
cuddled a baby in her arms -- she
sang for it, tickled it, and the child
rejoiced in rings of laughter.


They who ravished the robust women
among my forbears, they our tormentors
still live within me to this day
with the spilled blood of our menfolk.

So many Franks and Slavs and Mongols,
brave blades of the pogroms, lurk in my bones
yet, by the right of the mothers, the Jew
stares back at them from my face.

They've changed my brown eyes into blue,
and made my curly dark hair blond,
that rabble of all Teutonic Europe
who gather and bustle and stir in my cells,

they who have dressed my bones in their skin,
their white skin soft like fancy linen --
But as the rabbis have blessed the fate
of the Jewish people in the offspring,

and brought them up, despite the rapes,
from age to age as Jewish children,
still the murderers have blue eyes
and blue eyed also are the victims.

Thomas Land

If you've any comment on this poem, Thomas Land would be pleased to hear from you.