Sadako Kurihara--Japanese

Sadako Kurihara 
Sadako Kurihara was present on August 6, 1945 when the Atom Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It was at that moment that her life was transformed from being a shopkeeper to becoming one of Japan’s most controversial poets. Her first major collection of poems, Black Eggs, published in 1946, was highly censored by American Occupation Censorship regulations because of her boldly addressing the horrors of the aftermath of the bomb. The full volume of Black Eggs was not published until 1986. Through the years Kurihara has taken a stand on Japan’s aggressive rule with the Chinese occupation, the mistreatment of Koreans in Japan, and the need for a world-wide ban on nuclear weapons. 


We Shall Bring Forth New Life

It was a night spent in the basement of a burnt out building.

People injured by the atomic bomb took shelter in this room, filling it.
They passed the night in darkness, not even a single candle among them.
The raw smell of blood, the stench of death.
Body heat and the reek of sweat. Moaning.
Miraculously, out of the darkness, a voice sounded:
"The baby's coming!"
In that basement room, in those lower reaches of hell,
A young woman was now going into labor.
What were they to do,
Without even a single match to light the darkness?
People forgot their own suffering to do what they could.
A seriously injured woman who had been moaning but a moments before,
Spoke out:
"I'm a midwife. Let me help with the birth."
And now life was born
There in the deep, dark depths of hell.
Her work done, the midwife did not even wait for the break of day.
She died, still covered with the blood.
Bring forth new life!
Even should it cost me my own,
Bring forth new life!


The Day of the Atom Bomb


Frightening/street of hell-/each moment/

the number of refugees/grows. Me refugees

all/have burns;/clothes/are seared/onto

skin.[Uninjured/but utterly naked,/a young

girl fleeing-/I give her/my child's

underpants./The road to the aid station/

outside of town:/the line of refugees/

stretches on/ and on./On the relief trucks/

the bodies of the dead/and the injured,/

blistered and/horrible.


When We Say,”Hiroshima”

When we say "Hiroshima,"/do people answer,
gently,/ "Ah,'Hiroshima? ... /Say"Hiroshima,"
and hear" Pearl Harbor.'/Say "Hiroshima,"
and hear "Rape of Nanjing."/Say "Hiroshima,"
and hear women and children in Manila/thrown
into trenches, doused with gasoline,/and
burned alive./Say "Hiroshima,"/and hear
echoes of blood and fire./"Ah, 'Hiroshima',"
/we first must/wash the blood/off our own hands.



Hiroshima, Auschwitz: We Must Not Forget

Hiroshima, Auschwitz: we must not forget.
Nagasaki, Auschwitz: we must not forget.
Even if the first time was a mistake, the
Second time will be a calculated malice.
The vow we made to the dead:
we must not forget.

City Ravaged by Flames

Amid rubble /ravaged by flames/the last

moments /of thousands: /what sadness! /

Thousands of people,/tens of thousands:

/lost/the instant/the bomb exploded./

silent, all sorrows/unspoken,/city of

rubble/ravaged by flames:/autumn rain falls.



Barbara F. Lefcowitz--American


Barbara F. Lefcowitz

Barbara F. Lefcowitz has nine collections of poetry to her credit. A recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, Lefcowitz uses travel as a means to enrich her writing and the work she does as a visual artist. She lives in Bethesda Maryland, and continues to write and publish. Her most recent works include Photo, Bomb, Red Chair, published in 2004, and The Blue Train to America, published in 2007.


For Mirjam Lenka

born 1/15/1935, Prague
died 1/6/1944, Auschwitz

What was I doing when you died in the ovens,
not quite nine, the two of us born
the exact same day;

were my eyes covered
with a rag, the hide 'n seek "It" girl, or
was I learning that 9 x 9 = 81,

fixed in every language and catalogue
of laws, fixed long after your name, incised
on the vault of the

Pinchas Synagogue in Prague,
is but a small stone wound that cannot
be felt or seen.

And lashed by these lines to your
vast, nearly anonymous death, my own name
once again a tiny scar on the planet's
tough old skin,

a scar that will never
heal, replace, or even protect you. Come, Mirjam,
come let's play. My house, your house,
the schoolyard. I twist your hair into braids,
lest if fly off with you,
dress you in a peasant blouse, your eyes the same shade
as mine, snapshot gray-green.

No need for fear, Mirjam,
I'll let you go,
nor need our play be morbid,

each rope a noose

and all the dolls dead,
their slung heads swaying from the horse-chestnut tree.

Laughing and glossy red,
we uncross our legs.

stuff secret rags and gourds

in our skirts, deliver them under the porch.
We feed them seeds and kernels,

pink milk-buds,
peel open their swaddled bodies. For hours we
make them obey our private biology,
the cleft between our legs still hairless
and bloodless, we ourselves a pair of planes
free from the tugging moon,
the solid geometry of gestation.

With crayons and paper
you show me your curve of a pappa,
tangential to a right angle chair, his top hat
floating above the bread, the cut flowers,
your mama bearing precarious bowls,

or are they birds perhaps,
birds that took flight from the fringed piano shawl,
its french-knot branches and ripe bushes
of bright cotton berries.

You bid me enter, snap on
a tasseled lamp, play the same flutter of rush-notes
as I would, 

a gutted Schubert sonatina, all
gapped walls and rickety steps, its real music
locked in the piano's brain, too rich and complex
for our nine year fingers.
Later you walk me across the Charles Bridge,
its gloomy black statues looming all the way
to Mala Strana,

each separate and rigid
as a tombstone, never to sway,
meet, much less touch.

Mirjam, let me tell you
about the concert: the Stalin, Hitler,
Roosevelt, Chamberlain string quartet,
their instruments glittering mid-bridge,
hands held on the haft of aknife

so sharp your country's heart

lifts like scooped fruit they split
and spit out in the Moldau. Other news
as well I tell you, how the pictures
you made at Terezin were rescued, 

like very old tools and bone, spectacles
shoes, gold teeth;

how I myself fast
reached ten, eleven, twenty, middle-age,
multiplied and learned at last to live with fractions.

Back, Mirjam, to you, my twin with no marker,
guilt-twin, occasional dream-mate,
ashes to feed Polish weeds,

bodiless name,
the grief that grounds all art: to claim,
to fill with flesh and blood, add, multiply
divide, to make once more a body.

But your loss so vast and monstrous
who am I to do more
than make a shoddy pact with grief.

Subtract. Hollow with scalpels.
A scaffold with nothing inside, not a brick,
not Prague's bronze astronomical clock,
its hourly display of death and disciples
disrupted for repair when I joined the crowd
in Rathaus Square.

Here, right here,
you must have swung your schoolbag, the books
filled with penmanship and sums.

How can it be,
I say as I look for you
one last time,
how can it be that 9 + 9 = zero?
Even if I make it 9 + 9 - 9,
still you come out zero,
come out zero,
come out zero long before your time
to come out zero.


Excerpt from Self-Guided Audio Tour

Study the violin,
especially its veneer & the cracks in its scroll,
this old man carries through the streets
of the Warsaw Ghetto. It serves as his
shield against bullets & fire, the bones
of old chairs & beds flying through paneless
windows, the gutted remains of gramophones
& pianos, the smashed keys of the latter,
some have claimed, still playing
a Chopin polonaise.

Notice the scars where the man
clutches his violin's neck

as if he were starving
& the neck were attached
to a scrawny chicken.
Yet his hands appear
to hold it gently so the neck
will neither bleed nor break off
from the heart of the violin's body.

Perhaps he will rub a bittersweet waltz
from its strings, a folksong extolling
raisins and almonds? Lie down
to die with a smile serene as an angel's
or God's? Feel free to decide for yourself.

Now look to the right at these two
copper pots, not a hint of a stain
from their last beet-roots or cabbage.
Note the clarity of image, after
so many years, especially the faces
of those women by the table,
the older wearing a knotted veil
the younger staring straight at the camera.
Probably only the pots survive. 

The piled-up beer crates in Number #20,
along with the milk wagons, carriages, sleds
tell us that no container's too small for the dead.
But look at this next photo's
laughing children, running from all corners
to where Mila Street meets
Muranowski Square. The men in black seem
to be offering chocolates & round things
that could be fruit. Perhaps the kids will soon
ride out to the woods in a hay-wagon? 

Barely hanging, the sign above the burned-out shop
straight ahead still clearly reads
Ice-cream, Eskimo Brand.

The wrought iron balconies in Number #30
were built in the 18th century. Their elegant
spirals make them fine examples of French influence.

Two figures in the background
are about to leap in an attempt to escape the flames. 

Don't miss the cobblestones in the small
photo near the exit. In the heart
of the ghetto their hexagonal design
remains free from blood, fire, bullet holes.

Please return your headseats
to the yellow bins, making sure to
rewind them. Then take a moment
to visit our gift shop.
Thank you.




Primo Levi--Italian



Primo Levi


Prior to the Second World War, Primo Levi was a chemist. Today he is recognized as an author of poetry, short stories, novels, science fiction writings, memoirs, and as an Auschwitz holocaust survivor. His novel, If This Is a Man (also published as Survival in Auschwitz) is revered as one of the most important works of the 20th century. After his survival at Auschwitz, Levi spent the majority of his time dedicated to dealing with why he was not killed. “The worst survived, that is, the fittest; the best all died," he said. Levi apparently died at his own hand in 1987. Levi was prone to believe that anti- anti-Semitism is a bleak reality of culture, and not necessarily an invention of the Nazis, thus seeing a “paradoxical analogy between victim and oppressor.”


25th February 1944 

I would like to believe in something,
Something beyond the death that undid you.
I would like to describe the intensity
With which, already overwhelmed,
We longed in those days to be able
To walk together once again
Free beneath the sun.

Translated from the Italian by Brian Swann and Ruth Feldman


The Girl-Child of Pompei

Since everyone’s anguish is our own,
We live ours over again, thin child,
Clutching your mother convulsively
As though, when the noon sky turned black,
You wanted to re-enter her.
To no avail, because the air, turned poison,
Filtered to find you through the closed windows
Of your quiet, thick-walled house,
Once happy with your song, your timid laugh.
Centuries have passed, the ash has petrified
To imprison those delicate limbs forever.
In this way you stay with us, a twisted plaster cast,
Agony without end, terrible witness to how much
Our proud seed matters to the gods.
Nothing is left of your far-removed sister,
The Dutch girl imprisoned by four walls
Who wrote of her youth without tomorrows.
Her silent ash was scattered by the wind,
Her brief life shut in a crumpled notebook.
Nothing remains of the Hiroshima schoolgirl,
A shadow printed on a wall by the light of a thousand suns,
Victim sacrificed on the altar of fear.
Powerful of the earth, masters of new poisons,
Sad secret guardians of final thunder,
The torments heaven sends us are enough.
Before your finger presses down, stop and consider.

Translated from the Italian by Ruth Feldman



Torn feet and cursed earth,
The long line in the gray morning.
The Buna smokes from a thousand chimneys,
A day like every other day awaits us.
The whistles terrible at dawn:
'You multitudes with dead faces,
On the monotonous horror of the mud
Another day of suffering is born.'
Tired companion, I see you in my heart.
I read your eyes, sad friend.
In your breast you carry cold, hunger, nothing.
You have broken what's left of the courage within you.
Colorless one, you were a strong man,
A woman walked at your side.
Empty companion who no longer has a name,
Forsaken man who can no longer weep,
So poor you no longer grieve,
So tired you no longer fear.
So once-strong man
If we were to meet again
Up there in the world, sweet beneath the sun,
With what kind of face would we confront each other?


Excerpt from Shemá

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.


Yala Korwin--Polish

Yala Korwin
Author of one of the most remembered poems of the Holocaust, “The Little Boy with His Hands Up,” Yala Korwin, was born in Poland. She was interned in a concentration camp in Germany during the war. Following liberation she went to France as a refugee and stayed there for 10 years. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1965. Her book, To Tell the Story: Poems of the Holocaust, was published in 1987. She is a frequent contributor to journals including Midstream, Blue Unicorn, Orphic Lute and Piedmont Literary Review. Her work also appears in the Shoah project and a number of anthologies. Korwin is also a visual artist.


Such Innocent Words

Train   camp   shower
Gas   furnace   smoke
Bent and transfigured
Shoes   hair   soap
Mattress   lampshade
Twisted   defiled forever
Common words
Horror   loss


I Lost My Mother Tongue in the War

"Only in the mother tongue can one speak his own truth." -- Paul Celan

Did you say that my words sound queer?
I lost my mother tongue in the war.
I'm sorry I disturb your ear.

Some lose their limbs when they volunteer,
I lost my tongue, as I said before.
That's why my words to you sound queer.

My tongue atrophied, fate brought me here.
The new tongue's clumsy; wound's still sore.
I'm sorry I disturb your ear.

The graft succeeded. Cost me dear.
It helped, but it could not restore.
I know my words to you sound queer.

Therapy goes on, and I fear
My case is hopeless evermore.
I'm sorry I disturb your ear.

Deprived of all that I held dear,
I went through insult, hunger, gore.
I know my words to you sound queer,
But I've stopped caring about your ear.



The Little Boy with His Hands Up

Your open palms raised in the air
like two white doves
frame your meager face,
your face contorted with fear,
grown old with knowledge beyond your years.
Not yet ten. Eight? Seven?
Not yet compelled to mark
with a blue star on white badge
your Jewishness.

No need to brand the very young.
They will meekly follow their mothers.

You are standing apart
Against the flock of women and their brood
With blank, resigned stares.
All the torments of this harassed crowd
Are written on your face.
In your dark eyes—a vision of horror.
You have seen Death already
On the ghetto streets, haven't you?
Do you recognize it in the emblems
Of the SS-man facing you with his camera?

Like a lost lamb you are standing
Apart and forlorn beholding your own fate.

Where is your mother, little boy?
Is she the woman glancing over her shoulder
At the gunmen at the bunker's entrance?
Is it she who lovingly, though in haste,
Buttoned your coat, straightened your cap,
Pulled up your socks?
Is it her dreams of you, her dreams
Of a future Einstein, a Spinoza,
Another Heine or Halévy
They will murder soon?
Or are you orphaned already?
But even if you still have a mother,
She won't be allowed to comfort you
In her arms.

Her tired arms loaded with useless bundles
Must remain up in submission.

Alone you will march
Among other lonely wretches
Toward your martyrdom.

Your image will remain with us
And grow and grow
To immense proportions,
To haunt the callous world,
To accuse it, with ever stronger voice,
In the name of the million youngsters
Who lie, pitiful rag-dolls,
Their eyes forever closed.

Published in To Tell the Story - Poems Of the Holocaust, Holocaust Publications, NY



Marie Luise Kaschnitz--German

Marie Luise Kaschnitz
Marie Luise Kaschnitz, born 1901, near the German Black Forest, and moved to Berlin at the beginning of her teen years. After completing her schooling, Kaschnitz worked as a bookseller, and then in 1924 became secretary in the Archaeological Institute in Rome. There she met her future husband, an Austrian archaeologist, Baron von Kaschnitz-Weinberg. Her first book, a novel, Liebe Beginnt, was published in 1933. For the next decades they lived between Rome and Frankfurt. In 1940 they became trapped in Frankfurt due to the firebombing of the city. They remained there through the remainder of the war. Kaschnitz’s future work took on the mood and impressions she experienced during the war. Her book “Hiroshima,” took on the brutality of bombing. She went on to publish extensively after the war. She died in 1974.
Not Brave
The brave know 
They will not rise again
That no flesh will grow around them
On Judgment Morning
That they won’t remember anything
That they won’t see anyone ever again
That nothing of theirs is waiting
No salvation
No torture
Am not brave.

Translated by Eavan Boland


The man who dropped death on Hiroshima
Rings bells in the cloister, has taken vows. 
The man who dropped death on Hiroshima
Put his head in a noose and hanged himself.
The man who dropped death on Hiroshima 
Is out of his mind, is battling with risen souls
Made of atomic dust who are out to attack him.
Every night. Hundreds and thousands of them.
None of it’s true.
In fact, I saw him the other day
In his front garden, there in the suburb—
With immature hedges and dainty roses.
You need time to make a Forest of Forgetting
Where someone can hide. Plainly on view
Was the naked, suburban house and the young wife
Standing beside him in her floral dress
And the little girl attached to her hand
And the boy hoisted up on his back
And cracking a whip over his head.
And he was easy to pick out
On all fours there on the lawn, his face
Contorted with laughter, because the photographer
Behind the hedge, the seeing eye of the world.

Translated by Eavan Boland

Barbara Kobos-Kaminska--Polish/Swedish

Originally from Poland, Barbara Kobos Kaminska now resides in Sweden. Her work appears in contemporary Polish journals and she is a featured writer of Shoah, an internet site dedicated to the art, poetry and essays of occupied Poland in the years 1929-1945. 


Do Not Know

I do not know
when to embark on the journey
of your youth.
I do not know
where to seek the traces
of the Holocaust
in the land full of
ashes and blood.
I hear fear.
I hear crying.
I hear screams.


In the Permanence of Unforgetfulness 

You still see
her shining hair
interlaced in a braid,
her palm searching for
a palm's warmth,
her eyes trustfully looking
from the face of a child's fear,
when violently separated,
forcibly stripped off
her humanity
she stepped lonely
towards the termination
of her life.
The Well-Known Journey Into The Unknown

A transport of children in cattle railcars,
with but a slice of black bread and a bundle
filled with the baggage of their childhood.
In this uninterrupted journey,
the dawn of the rising day pushed slowly
through the small barred car’s window.
Then the train suddenly stopped thus
causing screams of the panicked children
being torn away from their mother's arms.
The well-known journey into the unknown.
Where to and what for?
Without mother, father, and God.
The Terminal Station

The transport lasted days and nights
on a train packed with exhausted
women clinging to their meagerbundles.
Nothing but screams and wailings
escaped the chock-full railcars.
The train slowly came to a stop
on the middle track.
It was the terminal station—



Kenneth Koch--American

Kenneth Koch
Kenneth Koch often said he couldn’t wait to grow up. As a student at Harvard and as a young poet, Koch was associated with the New York School of poetry which received much of its inspiration from the works of painters Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Larry Rivers. During World War II Koch was drafted into the Army and he saw action in the Philippines. “To World War Two,” is a powerful statement about his experience. Koch was revered as a teacher of writers of all ages. He taught at Columbia. His honors include the Bollingen Prize for Poetry and awards from the Guggenheim and Ingram-Merrill foundations and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Koch died in 2002.


To World War Two

Early on you introduced me to young women in bars
You were large, and with a large hand
You presented them in different cities,
Made me in San Luis Obispo, drunk
On French seventy-fives, in Los Angeles, on pousse-cafe's.
It was a time of general confusion
Of being a body hurled at a wall.
I didn't do much fighting.  I sat, rather I stood, in a foxhole.
I stood while the typhoon splashed us into morning.
It felt unusual
Even if for a good cause
To be part of a destructive force
With my rifle in my hands
And in my head
My serial number
The entire object of my existence
To eliminate Japanese soldiers
By killing them
With a rifle or with a grenade
And then, many years after that,
I could write poetry
Fall in love
And have a daughter
And think about these things
From a great distance
If I survived
I was "paying my debt
To society" a paid
Killer. It wasn't
like anything I'd done
Before, on the paved
Streets of Cincinnati
Or on the ballroom floor
At Mr. Vathe's dancing class
What would Anne Marie Goldsmith
Have thought of me
If instead of asking her to dance
I had put my BAR to my shoulder
And shot her in the face
I thought about her in my foxhole—
One, in a foxhole near me, has his throat cut during the night
We take precautions but it is night and it is you.

The typhoon continues and so do you.
"I can't be killed--because of my poetry. I have to live on in order to write it."
I thought--even crazier thought, or just as crazy—
"If I'm killed while thinking of lines, it will be too corny
When it's reported" (I imagined it would be reported!)
So I kept thinking of lines of poetry. One that came to me on the beach on
Was "The surf comes in like masochistic lions."
I loved this terrible line. It was keeping me alive. My Uncle Leo wrote to me,
"You won't believe this, but some day you may wish
You were footloose and twenty on Leyte again." I have never wanted
To be on Leyte again,
With you, whispering into my ear,
"Go on and win me! Tomorrow you might not be alive,
So do it today!" How could anyone win you?
You were too much for me, though I
Was older than you were and in camouflage. But for you
Who threw everything together, and had all the systems
Working for you all the time, this was trivial.  If you could use me
You'd use me, and then forget. How else
Did I think you'd behave?
I'm glad you ended. I'm glad I didn't die. Or lose my mind.
As machines make ice
We made dead enemy soldiers, in
Dark jungle alleys, with weapons in our hands
That produced fire and kept going straight through
I was carrying one,
I who had gone about for years as a child
Praying God don't let there be another war
Or if there is, don't let me be in it. Well, I was in you. All you cared about was existing and being won.
You died of a bomb blast in Nagasaki, and there were parades.




Gertrude Kolmar--German

Gertrude Kolmar
Gertrude Kolmar died in a German concentration camp in 1943. Born in 1894 she was a Jewish poet that wrote courageously during the war years. Her collection of letters, My Gaze is Turned Inward: Letters 1938-1943, proclaims the power of human will while a person is surrounded by oppression and the eventual sentence of death. Kolmar was able to produce a collection of poetry, Dark Soliloquy. during her imprisonment.




The murderers are loose! 

They search the world

All through the night,

oh God, all through the night!

To find the fire kindled in me now,

This child so like a light, so still and mild.  

They want to put it out.

Like pouring ink

Their shadows seep from angled walls;

Like scrawny cats they scuttle

Timidly across the footworn steps.  

And I am shackled to my bed

With grating chains all gnawed with rust

That weigh upon me, pitiless and strong.

And bite raw wounds into my helpless arms.  

The murderer has come! 

He wears a hat,

A broad-brimmed hat with towering pointed peak;

Upon his chin sprout tiny golden flames

That dance across my body; it is good…  

His huge nose sniffs about and stretches out

Into a tentacle that wriggles like a rope.

Out of his fingernails crawl yellow maggots,

Saffron seeds that sprinkle down on me  

Into my hair and eyes. 

The tentacle Gropes for my breasts, at rose-brown nipples,

And I see its white flesh twist into the blackness;

Something sinks upon me, sighs and presses—  

I can’t go on…I can’t…Oh let the blade strike down

Like a monstrous tooth that flashes from the sky!

Oh crush me! There, where blood-drops fly,

Can you hear it cry, can you hear it?  

“Mother!” Oh the stillness…

In my womb: the axe.

From either side of it break forks of flame.

They meet and fold together now:

My child. 

Of dark green bronze, so stern and grave. 


Translated by Henry A. Smith




Peter Huchel--German

Peter Huchel


Huchel was born near Berlin in 1903. He studied literature and philosophy in Germany and in Vienna. His early poetry spoke mostly to the culture and nature of the Brandenburg, Germany area. From 1934-40 he wrote plays for German radio. During the war he was a pilot in the Luftwaffe and taken prisoner by the Russians in 1945. After the war he worked for East German radio, and in 1949 became editor of Sinn und Form, an influential poetry magazine. Soon after the Berlin Wall was built, Huchel came under attack for his views. He was forced into isolation, but was permitted to leave the German Democratic Republic for Rome. He later returned to Germany where he died in 1980.

The Ammonite
For Axel Vieregg

Tired of the gods and of their fires,
I lived without laws
in the dip of the valley of Hinnon.
My old companions left me,
the balance of earth and sky,
only the ram, trailing its footrot limp
across the stars, remained loyal.
Under its horns of stone
that shone without smoke, I slept by night,
every day baked urns
that I shattered against the rock
in face of the setting sun.
In the cedars I did not see
the cats' twilight, the rising of birds,
the splendor of water
flowing over my arms
when in my bucket I mixed the clay.
The smell of death made me blind.