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
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 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
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?
WW Melnyk, © 2017
Jewish women and children arrive at the “Selection Ramp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In less than an hour, they will all be stripped naked and die in one of the gas chambers. Look closely at each face. Never forget them.
We Are Almost Gone
Released at last
from the dark cattle cars,
the nightmare past
we hoped. Ours,
a futile grope for ended dreams.
The sun is bright,
the blue sky hurts our eyes,
and dark smoke, still beyond our sight,
where horror down a narrow pathway lies.
Look at us! The almost dead.
You cannot hear the muffled cries,
the silent miseries of dread.
The few short minutes left
before the gas, bereft, bereft
of hope. Our waning minutes pass
without time; eternity already lies
before us: blue skies,
and keening chorus.
© 27 June 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved.
Occasionally I like to post a poem from another collection. This one is from Walter William Melnyk, Selected Poems 1997 – 2014, available on Amazon.
Full Moon on the Black Sea, (C) 2006 Walter William Melnyk (on the MS Watutin)
The Boat from Odessa
We are, all of us, going to Sevastopol,
pearl, or opal perhaps, of the Black Sea.
Each of us on a journey meant to be
for the saving of souls,
others’ or our own.
We bring our gods within us, we think,
(on the brink of our understanding)
to a land of ancient gods,
old before ours were young,
on whose whim hung
the fate of countless peoples come and gone.
A strange interlude,
out here on the sea,
for those who turn aside to brood
upon the question of how gods came to be.
Are they here because we’ve brought them,
like an escort for the great Divine?
Or is it that we’ve sought them with such zeal
that we’ve taught ourselves to feel
things we only hope to find?
Each claiming to be sighted,
while calling others blind.
On the Black Sea, 2006
(C)2006, Walter William Melnyk
Original German by Ilse Weber in Terezin, c. 1943
translated by Walter William Melnyk, 2016
When we leave work in the evening,
home lures us with no colorful, shimmering lamplight.
We stand, hesitating, before the door
at the horror of our darkened room.
They have taken our light in punishment,
because someone has done something wrong;
what, exactly, the camp has not learned.
We’ve been living in the dark now for weeks.
So you stand on the porch
looking up at the sky with all the stars.
The evenings are now so beautiful and long –
the whole barrack agrees.
Thus we have only now learned to understand
how wonderfully the golden stars shine.
And above all that you should go to sleep,
so you will not have to cry all night.
As it appears in “Pavel’s Violin”
This is the Way to Theresienstadt
original German by Ilse Weber c. 1943
Translation by Walter William Melnyk, 2017
This is the road to Theresienstadt
trodden laboriously by a thousand,
and every one of the thousand has
suffered the same injustice:
They marched him with bowed head,
the Star of David over his heart,
his tired feet sore and dirty,
his soul tormented with pain,
hands bruised with a heavy burden,
driven by harsh commands,
an endless road in the burning sun,
his throat tormented with thirst.
This is the road to Thereseinstadt,
which has drunk our lifeblood,
where many a weary old man collapsed
and died on the rocky road.
It is a road full of misery and darkness
where streams of tears flow;
complaints of children, and moans of women,
are shed in helpless yammering.
Here an old man with poor sight stumbles
in the ruts of the herd.
How many never again return,
because the earth encloses them.
“Where Is My Home?” is the National Anthem of the Czech Republic. This English translation is by Walter William Melnyk.
Where is my home, where is my home?
Streams are rushing through the meadows,
Midst the rocks sigh fragrant pine groves,
Orchards decked in spring’s array,
Scenes of Paradise portray.
And this land of wondrous beauty,
Is the Czech land, my home!