TCS: This World Upside Down – In Memorium

Good Morning!  

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings.
This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning
a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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There is nothing sane, merciful, heroic, devout,
redemptive, wise, holy, loving, peaceful, joyous,
righteous, gracious, remotely spiritual, or worthy
of praise where mass murder is concerned. 

– Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium

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You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, from South Pacific

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught
To be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught
Before it’s too late
Before you are six
Or seven
Or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be carefully taught


Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was an American lyricist, librettist, theatrical producer, and director (often uncredited) in the musical theatre for almost 40 years. He was an activist for writers’ rights, and served as president of the Dramatists Guild of America (1955–1960).  Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. He wrote the lyrics for 850 songs, many of them now considered standards. Hammerstein was one of the more socially conscious American musical theatre lyricists of his time, but the songs he wrote reflecting his beliefs were sometimes cut from the motion picture versions of his smash hit Broadway musicals. After his death at age 65 from cancer, the entire area of Times Square in New York was blacked out for three minutes, and two trumpeters blew taps in the square.

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January 27th is International Day in Memory of the Holocaust Victims.

Warning: These poems are difficult reading.

Some of you may not want to read them with your morning coffee, or even your afternoon tea, but I hope you will read them some time today.

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The Action in the Ghetto of Rohatyn,
March 1942

 by Alexander Kimel

Do I want to remember?
. . . The peaceful ghetto, before the raid:
Children shaking like leaves in the wind.
. . . Mothers searching for a piece of bread.
Shadows, on swollen legs, moving with fear.
. . . No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?
Do I want to remember, the creation of hell?
. . . The shouts of the Raiders, enjoying the hunt.
Cries of the wounded, begging for life.
. . . Faces of mothers carved with pain.
Hiding Children, dripping with fear.
. . . No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?
Do I want to remember, my fearful return?
. . . Families vanished in the midst of the day.
The mass grave steaming with vapor of blood.
. . . Mothers searching for children in vain.
The pain of the ghetto, cuts like a knife.
. . . No, I don’t want to remember, but how can I forget?
Do I want to remember, the wailing of the night?
. . . The doors kicked ajar, ripped feathers floating the air.
The night scented with snow-melting blood.
. . . While the compassionate moon, is showing the way.
For the faceless shadows, searching for kin.
. . . No, I don’t want to remember, but I cannot forget.
Do I want to remember this world upside down?
. . . Where the departed are blessed with an instant death.
While the living condemned to a short wretched life,
. . . And a long tortuous journey into unnamed place,
Converting Living Souls, into ashes and gas.
. . . No. I Have to Remember and Never Let You Forget.


Alexander Kimel (1926-2018), Holocaust survivor, was born in Podhaje, Galiza. In 1940, his family moved to the ghetto of Rohatyn, to avoid the advancing Red Army. In the ghetto, there were extreme sanitation issues, which caused the death of Kimel’s mother and hundreds more. Between 1941 and 1943, 9,900 out of 10,000 Jews were killed. In May 1943, he ran away, just one month before the ghetto and everyone in it was destroyed. Kimel survived in surrounding villages and the forest before coming to America. When asked on the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust remembrance what he learned through the Holocaust, he replied, “We have to be tolerant. I don’t care if you’re Catholic, Muslim or something else, as long as you’re a decent human being. That’s really what it is.”

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A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

by Czeslaw Milosz

Bees build around red liver,
Ants build around black bone.
It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,
It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam
Of gypsum, iron sheets, violin strings, trumpets, leaves, balls, crystals.
Poof! Phosphorescent fire from yellow walls
Engulfs animal and human hair.

Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,
Ants build around white bone.
Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,
Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.
The roof and the wall collapse in flame and heat seizes the foundations.
Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,
With one leafless tree.

Slowly, boring a tunnel, a guardian mole makes his way,
With a small red lamp fastened to his forehead.
He touches buried bodies, counts them, pushes on,
He distinguishes human ashes by their luminous vapor,
The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.
Bees build around a red trace.
Ants build around the place left by my body.

I am afraid, so afraid of the guardian mole.
He has swollen eyelids, like a Patriarch
Who has sat much in the light of candles
Reading the great book of the species.

What will I tell him, I, a Jew of the New Testament,
Waiting two thousand years for the second coming of Jesus?
My broken body will deliver me to his sight
And he will count me among the helpers of death:
The uncircumcised.


“A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto” from The Collected Poems, © 1990 by Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was born in Lithuania, then a part of the Russian Empire. He was the son of Polish parents, and his childhood was full of upheaval, caused by WWI, the Polish-Soviet War, and the Polish-Lithuanian War, forcing his family to move again and again. He was fluent in Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, English, French, and Hebrew. He became a Polish cultural attaché, but defected to France in 1951 when he fell under the displeasure of the communist regime. In 1960, he became a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, but after the fall of the communist regime, he spent his last years in Kraków. Milosz was a prose writer, translator, and diplomat, but is most highly regarded as one of the great poets of the 20th century. He won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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My Biggest Regret

by Zofia Romanowicz

It is not my youth that I shall most regret,
Or Mother, or you – neither the world nor springtime –
But the song that restlessly stirs within me
Waiting to unfurl like a sail.

The hardest part will be to die thinking
That the pain which rends my body
Will also slay the buried Word
Before it blooms on my lips like a flame. 

                                                      Pińczów Prison, February 1942

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Prepare Me a Dress . . . 

by Zofia Romanowicz

Prepare me a dress, I’m coming back right away;
I left, but I shall return today or tomorrow,
I will want to strip off everything and put on only
What your kind hands give me at the door. 

I shall want to rip everything off me, cast away
Everything that is too heavy, dirty, and bitter –
The dress you give me will smell of green peas
Its folds will wash over my body like water. 

The dress will be blue like flowers by a stream.
It will surround me like a cloud, light and breezy –
Prepare me a dress, darling . . . I am certain
That I shall come back to you . . . very soon . . . 

                                                      Ravensbrück, 1942


poems translated by Alice-Catherine Carls and Daniel Simon

Zofia Romanowicz (1922-2010) was born in Radom, Poland. She was arrested by the Nazis in January 1941 and imprisoned for resistance activities. In April 1942 she was deported to Ravensbrück, and in September 1943 she was transferred to Neu-Rohlau. She escaped in the spring of 1945 during an evacuation march and was taken to Rome. In 1946 she settled in Paris. Together with her husband, Kazimierz Romanowicz, they managed the bookstore and publishing house Libella and the Galerie Lambert for nearly fifty years. She wrote eleven novels and numerous short stories and poems. She was awarded the Kościelski Award in 1964 and the Prize of the Polish Ministry of Culture & National Heritage in 2001 for the totality of her work.

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This poem was written by an unnamed child who was a prisoner in Terezín concentration camp. A total of 15,000 children under the age of 15 lived in the camp. Only 100 came back. This child was not one of the hundred.

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone.

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live here,
in the ghetto.


“The Butterfly” from I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, edited by Hana Volavková, expanded second edition © 1993 by Schocken Books. Originally published in a special edition for the State Jewish Museum in Prague in 1959.

Hana Volavková (1904-1985) was the only curator of the Central Jewish Museum to survive World War II. The authors and artists of the poems, letters, and drawings in I Never Saw Another Butterfly were the children of Terezin Concentration Camp.

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Starvation Camp Near Jaslo

by Wislawa Szymborska

Write it. Write. In ordinary ink
on ordinary paper: “they were given no food,
they all died of hunger.” All. How many?
It’s a big meadow. How much grass
for each one?” Write: I don’t know.
History counts its skeletons in round numbers.
A thousand and one remains a thousand,
as though the one had never existed:
an imaginary embryo, an empty cradle,
an ABC never read,
air that laughs, cries, grows,
emptiness running down steps toward the garden,
nobody’s place in the line.

We stand in the meadow where it became flesh,
and the meadow is silent as a false witness.
Sunny. Green. Nearby, a forest
with wood for chewing and water under the bark-
every day a full ration of the view
until you go blind. Overhead, a bird-
the shadow of its life-giving wings
brushed their lips. Their jaws opened.
Teeth clacked against teeth.
At night, the sickle moon shone in the sky
and reaped wheat for their bread.
Hands came floating from blackened icons,
empty cups in their fingers.
On a spit of barbed wire,
a man was turning.
They sang with their mouths full of earth.
“A lovely song of how war strikes straight
at the heart.” Write: how silent.
“Yes.”

Translated by Grazyna Drabik and Austin Flint

. . .

Hatred

by Wislawa Szymborska

See how efficient it still is,
how it keeps itself in shape—
our century’s hatred.
How easily it vaults the tallest obstacles.
How rapidly it pounces, tracks us down.

It’s not like other feelings.
At once both older and younger.
It gives birth itself to the reasons
that give it life.
When it sleeps, it’s never eternal rest.
And sleeplessness won’t sap its strength; it feeds it.

One religion or another –
whatever gets it ready, in position.
One fatherland or another –
whatever helps it get a running start.
Justice also works well at the outset
until hate gets its own momentum going.
Hatred. Hatred.
Its face twisted in a grimace
of erotic ecstasy…

Hatred is a master of contrast-
between explosions and dead quiet,
red blood and white snow.
Above all, it never tires
of its leitmotif – the impeccable executioner
towering over its soiled victim.

It’s always ready for new challenges.
If it has to wait awhile, it will.
They say it’s blind. Blind?
It has a sniper’s keen sight
and gazes unflinchingly at the future
as only it can.


“Starvation Camp Near Jaslo” and “Hatred” from Map: Collected and Last Poems, © by The Wislawa Szymborska Foundation, English translations © 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel award committee’s citation called her the “Mozart of poetry,” a woman who mixed the elegance of language with “the fury of Beethoven.” Ironically, she was not a prolific poet – she published less than 350 poems. When asked why she had published so few poems, she said: “I have a trash can in my home.” Although initially close to the official party line of the Polish Communist Party, as it shifted to nationalist communism, Szymborska grew estranged from socialist ideology and renounced her earlier political work. She did not officially leave the Communist party until 1966, but as early as 1957, she began to establish contacts with dissidents, including Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the influential Paris-based émigré journal Kultura, to which she contributed.

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Darkness does not leave us easily as we would hope.
― Margaret Stohl, American author

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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