Living on a Star in Terezin: a Poem

terezin-aerial-view
Terezin Concentration Camp

Living on a Star in Terezin

When I was young I’d lie
upon the cool grass at night
and gaze upon the sky.
And sometimes I would wonder why
I could not live there, on a star,
and in the heavens dance!
Clean and bright, and pure they are,
I thought, to my earth-bound sight;
tiny, shining beacons of the night.
Now, no longer young, and soon
perhaps to die,
now indeed I live upon a star,
between the river and the plains
that stretch as far
between here and home
as if among the starry skies I’d roamed.
A fortress battle-star of brick and earth:
the tortured turf now sick with sorrow,
void of mirth or stellar dance;
Eight pointed prison bastion of a star,
that is an ugly scar
upon a battered dream.

© 2017, Walter William Melnyk

A Child Survivor of Terezin

Tommy Lustig’s wonderful memoir, “Children on Death Row: The Hate and the War,” about his imprisonment in Terezin at 6 years old, and his father’s experience in Auschwitz, was the primary inspiration for my historical novel, “Pavel’s Violin: A Song of Hope.”  I am just finishing up the wonderful experience of helping Tom to edit his memoir, and it will soon be republished on Amazon in print and Kendle editions.  This will be the tenth edition of his work.  Watch for it coming soon, with this new cover:

Final Cover

 

It Must Be The Hat – A Poem

Tevye

It Must Be The Hat

Why the hat?
Why do we always wear a hat?
What’s with that, I asked,
with the hat?
He looked at me with eyes
as brown as the hat, wise
as the Good Book.
“Look,” he said. “Look,”
and touched the brim
of his brown hat.
“It’s not a whim,” he said,
“of man or God, that
I wear a hat, a hat as brown
as any clod of clay.
It reminds me, in a subtle way
that, like this hat I, too,
am like that bit of clay.
Anyway,” (he looked at me
and winked an eye,
and raised his pointed fingers
to the sky) it keeps the sun off
and the rain.
And otherwise I can’t explain it:
the hat, I mean.”
He tipped the visor up,
and scratched his head.
“Of course it just might be,” he said,
“we never get a chance to put it down
before we’re yet again
run out of town.”

©2017 Walter William Melnyk

Passing Out the Shit: A Poem

Cattle car 2

Passing Out the Shit Bucket
at Zgorzelec Station

Pass out the shit bucket, he said,
on the siding, in the rain.
The stench had closed our lungs for hours,
for miles, as the wheels clacked
over crumbling rails.
Stumbling, stumbling over emptied pails
of shit the nazi cursed
and shot old Josef for the fun of it.
And Josef, tumbling out the door,
rolled in the stinking stuff, but he
was dead already, and cared no more.

©9/3/2017 Walter William Melnyk

from ch 32 of Pavel’s Violin

Shit Buckets, Rage, and Laughter: an excerpt from “Pavel’s Violin

cattle car

“Pass out the shit bucket,” shouted a guard. And be careful with it, I don’t want your filth all over me.” While the bucket was being emptied, someone saw a signpost by the siding.
“Zgorzelec,” he said. “It’s Poland. My God, we’re in Poland.” And the door slid shut.

“It’s not the things you’d think would be the problems,” Pavel said to Aaron. Aaron was standing on Pavel’s shoulders with his face at the window slot, trying to get some fresh air without cutting his nose on the barbed wire. Moments at the window were at a premium, and available only to men who were already close by.

“What are you saying?” asked Aaron, nearly chocking on his small breath of fresh air. “What do you think our problem is, if it’s not the stench in here!” They had been traveling for nearly two days. Most men had not yet had the chance to sit for a few moments. Most had not gotten anywhere near the bucket. And the stench was so bad they had no desire to get any closer. Many just relieved themselves where they stood. Some people cursed them for it. Others understood, and wept.

“It’s not the stench,” Pavel went on. “Or the hunger or thirst, or the constant standing. It’s not even the dying,” he said, glancing toward the growing pile of corpses in one corner. “The real problem is the sheer, crushing boredom. The real problem is suffering and death have become so commonplace for us that we are growing bored with it.” He turned to the others in the car as Aaron clambered down off his shoulders.

“Don’t let yourself get bored!” He shouted at them. “Don’t let this become normal. Rage! Rage at the horror!”

“Getting angry won’t help,” someone said.

“Couldn’t hurt,’ Pavel retorted. “Chicken soup, you know.” And everyone who was still able burst into thankful laughter. “That’s it,” Pavel thought. “That’s what we need. Laughter. Rage and laughter.”

From Chapter 32, “Whatever It Takes,” 2-3 October 1944
“Pavel’s Violin” (C) 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights reserved

In Absam prope Oenipontum, an excerpt from “Pavel’s Violin”

The great Austrian luthier, Jakob Stainer (c. 1619-1683) used this handwritten label in all his instruments:

stainer_label

Jacobus Stainer in Absam
prope Oeinipontum 16–

“Jakob Stainer, in (the town of) Absam, near Innsbruck, (date)

And this is the title of Part I of “Pavel’s Violin,” the story of Jakob Stainer and his crafting of the very special violin.

from the title page of Part I, a quotation from Paul Stoving, in “The Story of the Violin:”

The Tyrolean fastness will guard his memory,
and the eagle will tell it to its young,
and pine to pine,
and the winds in dark recesses
will mourn the memory of Jacobus Stainer.

And the tale goes on from there:

I. Jakob Stainer and the Making of the Violin

II. In the Palaces of Bishops and Emperors

III. The Jewish Community of the Moravian Countryside

IV. The Great Olomouc (AH-lah-moats) Synagogue

V. In Terezin Concentration Camp

VI. In Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp

VII. The Violin Comes to Pavel

Will Paint  The author, playing Pavel’s violin.

A Child Comes to Terezin. A Poem.

Attic

A Child Comes to Terezin

(New Prisoners were housed sometimes
in the dark unheated attic of Podmokly Barracks)

It’s dark in the attic, Mama,
dark and cold, up here.
I know I’m six years old
and oughtn’t fear,
But it’s dark, dark up here.
Hold my hand, Mama,
I hear people moving, in the dark
and someone touched my leg.
Someone touched my leg,
but not someone; something.
Mama! Hold my hand!
Where are you? Something bit!
Why is it so dark, in the attic up here?
And why, Mama, is it so cold?
I know I’m six years old
and oughtn’t fear.
But it’s frightening, Mama,
up here. In this dark.
I promise not to cry, Mama.
But, will we die, Mama?
Up here, in this dark?
Why can’t we go home, Mama?
Why?

WW Melnyk, © 2017

A Nice Violin

Excerpt from Chapter 40 of “Pavel’s Violin”Cuckoo

(C) 2017, Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved

“A Nice Violin”

 ~ 6 March 1945 ~

Adam slowed his battered ammunition truck to a stop in front of the house, after another long day. Seven long trips up and down Vružná, Wrosna and Ostrý vrch. Live howitzer ammunition going up, empty shells coming down. It’s hard to tell whether he or his truck was covered with more mud. They’ll both have to be washed down before he can get some rest. The other trucks are already parked, with no sign of any mud having been removed. He rounds the house to the back gate, and finds Novak and Svododa standing there, watching the back window intently.

“Hey, guys, what’s . . .” They both wave him off wildly, and put fingers to their lips to shush him. So he approaches the gate silently, on tip-toe.
“What is it?” he whispers.

“There’s a cuckoo in the house,” Svoboda whispers back.

“A what?”

“Sssshhhhh.”
“A what?” asks Adam, more quietly.

“A cuckoo,” Novak whispers.

Adam listens carefully. There is a blackbird on the chimney pot, silently grooming its feathers. But no cuckoo, in or out.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Wait. Maybe it’ll start again.” And then it does. Quietly at first, then louder, then more softly again.

“Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.”
“Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.”

And then a child’s melody in ascending and descending scales of sixteenth notes and eighth notes. And then the cuckoo returns.

“It’s The Cuckoo Song,” you idiots,” says Adam. The other two laugh out loud, slapping him on the back.

“Had you goin’ though, didn’t we,” says Novak. “Still, it’s inside.”

The three sergeants cautiously sneek up to the back door, open it quietly, and step inside. Pavel is facing them, playing Komarovsky’s Cuckoo Song on a Violin, his face beaming with delete, enjoying their surprise. He finishs with a slow decrescendo of cuckoo calls. A-F, A-F, A-F; cu-ckoo, cu-ckoo, cu-koo, fading into silence. His audience pauses a moment in wonder, until Pavel bows, and then the three sergeants erupt into thunderous applause.

“It was here when I arrived, sitting on the table,” Pavel says, pointing to the open case. “Here’s the note that came with it.” He hands a slip of paper to Adam, who reads it aloud.

“Dear Pavel,
I hope you will like this Violin. It’s not so new, but very nice, I think. It
comes from a good friend, a Russian Transportation Officer named Sokolov, up in Górkie Wielki who remembers you from your arrival at his unit after your escape. He says you didn’t look much like a violinist then, but he takes my word for it, and wishes you the best. Remember the song we used to sing as kids, The Cuckoo Song? That should be the first thing you play! See you again sometime soon.
Love, Rasti

Pavel holds up the Violin for them to see. “It is a nice Violin,” he says.
It is probably safe to assume that the back room in the little house on the edge of Vendryné has never before experienced the sight of four Czech sergeants dancing circles around one another, and singing,
“Cuck-oo, cu-ckoo, cu-ckoo!”

(C) 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved