Polish/American poet

Henryk Grynberg--Polish/American

Henryk Grynberg
(1936-    )
Henryk Grynberg has written more than 20 books of prose and poetry, most on what he experienced during the Holocaust and the trauma following it. He graduated from Warsaw University in 1959, and soon after became an actor with the Jewish State Theater in Warsaw. While on tour in the U.S. in 1967, Grynberg defected, refusing to return to Poland because of the censorship of his writing. He worked for 20 years, mostly with the Voice of America, and the U.S. Information Agency. Grynberg’s writing has appeared in the Commentary, the Midstream and the Soviet-Jewish Affairs JournalChild of the Shadows and its sequel, The Victory have been published in English. His work has been translated into French, Germany, Italian, Hebrew and Dutch. 


The Poplars

They stand in a row like chimneys
the asphyxiated black poplars
pointing to heaven
tall as the silence
they were growing here the whole time
in spite of
and above everything
and still they grow

here the air is dense with absence
clouds of absence in the air
and the nothing called oblivion
flies up to the sky
like a cloud

trampled by millions of feet
the great fields of Auschwitz
the Auschwitz fields of Majdanek
the Auschwitz fields of Treblinka
the Auschwitz fields of All This
on which we stand
which moves with us
wherever we try to go

so there is nowhere you can go from here
nor can you leave

having stopped in a row of poplars
I try to grow with them
and like them gaze
with green eyes
I do not try to understand anything
nor to say anything
what else could there be
that needed saying here

I come to add my own
to the growing silence

Translated by Richard Lourie


Drawing in Memory

I am drawing in my memory a table at the window
and a little boy at the table
it’s the first table in his life
the mother serves a plate
the food is not quite kosher
so the boy looks out of the window
to see if the father is coming
because the father shouldn’t know

the table is gray and so is the window
even the plate is filled with grayness
there’s no color or light
in this recollection
the father did not come
he remained outside the window
murdered and buried
near the house

the mother had served everything and left
for the other edge of the world
to die on her own
independent as always
I can’t make her look at the window
I draw and draw but to no avail
stubbornly she turns always
her face barely visible
in the gray shade

but I feel her eyes at the table
when I serve the favorite dish
to her grandson



Helen Degen Cohen--Polish/American



Helen Degen Cohen

Born in Poland, Helen Degen Cohen spent her early years in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. At the start of World War II she fled with her family to Byelorussia. As her parents became involved with the resistance movement, they decided to send Helen to the safety of the countryside. There she was cared for by a Catholic woman. After the war her family returned to Warsaw to find nothing left of their old life. Cohen’s poems have appeared in the Spoon River Quarterly and in Charles Fishman’s Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust.


In Hiding

Poem about the many days in hiding

with a Catholic woman in a countryside

beside a place called War.
Once, in hiding, we went open-

riding in a lenient sleigh

buoyant on the lack of sound and motion

full-away from war

sleep weaving through a back country

my white-haired "lady saint" and I

our frozen faces craning

out of homespun colors:

one soft hour the sound of bells was all.

We were missed by the storm

in its silent eye:  

mounds of forest meandered past us

and nearer, more intricate intrusions

fled like calendars behind

their knowledge of our presence-

nature had to wait, we folded leaves

to dream in our escape, the sleigh

was like a god-crib carried by

some fabled beast across her snowy haven

and it hazed the deep green to a waiting green

where animals we knew of kindly

slept unblessed. Our war went still  

and deep, around the weightless sleigh.

And now, in a trembling present,

tense with the lunacy of peace

such as it is-a masquerade in blooming

shades of sacrifice, of comfort jaws

and love-drops like the red of war-

I crane my turtle-head for frozen air,

then burrowing

into the soft escape, the easy ride,

I hear, beside the child I was,

those solitary bells of joy

pulling her lonely sleigh.