Three Holocaust poems, translated from the Hungarian by Thomas Land


The pillow asleep on a troubled bunk.
Its dreams? Some well-seasoned, fragrant morsels.
The sweetness of puddings and rolls and cakes
          makes the soul yearn. For its wage.

Swallow? Swallow what? Only saliva
moistens the tongue, not mutton stew
and bean soup, braised kidneys and greens.
           Asleep is the palate. The teeth.

Is that a juicy joint on the boil?
And asparagus soup with golden pasta,
the glow of roast turkey? Does your mouth savour
          the flavour, the feel of potatoes?

Herbal honey tea, mint in the air lifts
lightly like lace. Tea brewed with my tears.
It’s bitter. Sugar has never been in
          this grim, this rickety tin mug...

Cholent. The smoky taste of stuffed goose-necks
held by the beans, and the best of the legs.
The larder shelves laden, the storage bar sags.
          The poultry preserved in their fat.

The pillow asleep, caressed by the dream.
The pot will never release it. Will
the communal kitchen spare me a scrap?
          I will stay here, even if starved!


In memoriam Giorgio (Jorge) Perlasca, an Italian Christian who assumed the mantle of the absent consul of Fascist Spain in Nazi-occupied Budapest to save more than 5,000 Jewish lives -- including mine.

Well I know the One to thank for
the shafts of light that pierce the darkness.
In the vicious circle of hell
the eye perceives a different world.

The shafts of light that pierce the darkness,
morning born from murderous night.
The eye perceives a different world
when you awake from deadly slumber.

Morning born from murderous night.
Our wounds restored by fresh young sunlight.
When you awake from deadly slumber,
will you enter fresh new worlds?

Our wounds restored by fresh young sunlight
consoling, healing, kissing our hurts?
Will you enter fresh new worlds
if you still trust humanity?

Consoling, healing, kissing? Our hurts
resolved through time? We bear our burden!
If you still trust humanity...
If One questions: who will answer?

Resolved through time? We bear our burden
multiplying in our cells.
If One questions, who will answer
down in this world, and not in heaven?

Multiplying in our cells
the crosses of two millennia.
Down in this world, and not in heaven,
One lives and wipes another’s tears.

The crosses of two millennia...
Our bodies marked out and dragged in shame...
One lives and wipes another’s tears.
One has eased for me my burden.

Our bodies marked out and dragged in shame,
marked by our star and by our faith...
One has eased for me my burden,
the One who saved the lives of thousands.

Marked by our star and by our faith,
thus our fate has been ennobled.
The One who saved the lives of thousands is silent...

                 I shout in his place.


A new Hebrew psalm

We do not reopen our wounds
and do not exhibit our wounds
and do not parade our wounds
and do not embellish our wounds
and do not inflame our wounds
and do not inflame our memories
and do not bewail our memories
and do not lament our memories -
for that would not lighten our burden
and would not heal our wounds
and would not lighten our memories
and would not comfort our souls.

Our altars all crumbled to dust
our psalms were chocked on ash
our altars lost their lustre
our altars, the future, died.

Our temples all collapsed
the arks of covenant broke
our psalms soared high towards heaven
our homes were smashed into earth.

And thus our bones were broken
our consciousness tormented
our memories tormented,
our vertebrates were grinded
as our murderers grew wild
and our altars crumbled to dust
and our psalms, they lost their lustre
and thus our infants fell silent
and thus our men folk grew lame
as the women were lit like torches
and our ancient prayers fell silent
and all, but all met the flames.
The streets took away our sons
the streets, they chased our daughters
the streets, they stoned our sons
the stones, they guarded our dead
while our infants turned into dust
as our murderers have dispersed,
confessed and gained forgiveness
to kill and confess again
and raise righteous gifts for charity
thus robbing the future, the faithful
whose children have turned into dust,
the dust we still breathe in the air:
and as long as we breathe, demand
an account for every deed.

No, we were not more guilty
nor our daughters more attractive
nor our sons any wiser than others -
no, we were only more wretched.
The hearts of our foes swelled with loathing
when they thought they attacked us for love
as they cast aside their faith
as they cast aside their humanity.

Our lips refrain from cursing.
We know the entire truth
and the slander of two millennia
which has infected the world
which has denied the one God,
the God whom we gave to the world.

They hate us for shunning judgment
and trying to live worthy lives
for having a grip on the world
with some who have still survived,
for showing compassion, not hatred,
for learning to reach into space
for sowing the deserts green and
for navigating the seas.
There is no escaping from us,
no shelter even in heaven,
for we are at home in the universe:
wandering Jews, we’ll live forever.

Éva Láng

Éva Láng at 15. This picture survived hidden in the boot of her childhood suitor while he served as a slave labourer in 1944/45 at the Mauthausen extermination camp, Austria. The two are together, happy great-grandparents.

If you have any comments on these poems, Thomas Land, the translator, would be pleased to hear from you.