Władysław Szlengel (1914-1943)
Poet, composer, and short-story writer, Wladyslaw Szlengel was born in Poland, in 1914. He started writing as a youth, and his poems “were highly popular in the [Warsaw] ghetto and reflected its mood.” It was reported that they were copied, passed hand to hand, and were frequently recited at meetings. For a period of time Szlengel worked as a ghetto policeman, but resigned, since he found it impossible to roundup Jews for deportation. In 1939, he participated in a campaign against the Nazi. For a period of time he was the only writer left in the ghetto so he became its chronicler. Szlengel was killed in April 1943 under unknown circumstances.
"An Account with God" ...
Do You still expect that
The day after tomorrow like in the Testament
When going to the Prussian gas
I shall still say "Amen" to You?
Hear, O God of the Germans,
the Jews praying amid the barbarians,
an iron rod or a grenade in their hands.
Give us, O God, a bloody fight
and let us die a swift death!
A Cry in the Night
These poems were written between the first
And second upheavals,
In the last dying days of agony
Of the largest Jewish community in Europe
Between July and September 1942,
I dedicate it to people on whom I could lean
Myself in the hours of blizzard and complete chaos
To those few who knew in the whirlpool of events,
In the dance of fate death and protectionism
Remember, that not only family...not only
Connections... not only money...
But also must be saved those few and
the last of the Mohicans,
Whose entire capital and
Entire arms is only the word,
To those to whom my cry has reached...
in the night...
Translated by John Nowik and Ada Holtzman
Two Gentlemen in the Snow
Snow is falling, angry, pervasive,
trimming my collar with white wool.
We’re together in the empty street,
a Jewish slave-worker and a soldier.
I am homeless, and so are you.
Time’s boulder is crushing our lives.
So much divides us … just think of it …
but now the snow unites us.
Because of you I can’t budge.
You too—youhave no choice.
Which one of us is holding whom?
It’s a third one who holds us both.
Your uniform is dashing, I admit.
I wouldn’t dare compare with you,
though the snow can’t tell us apart
the Jew and the handsome soldier.
Snow falls equally on me and on you.
It sheds so much white peace …
We both stare through the white veil
at the faraway light in the dusk.
Look, what am I up to? What are you up to?
What for? And who needs it?
Listen, my buddy, it snows and snows,
let’s split, and let’s go home.
Translation by Yala Korwin
The Little Station: Treblinka
On the Tluszcz-Warsaw line,
from the Warsaw-East station,
you leave by rail
and ride straight on …
The journey lasts, sometimes
five hours & 45 minutes,
but sometimes it lasts
a lifetime until death.
The station is tiny.
Three fir trees grow there.
The sign is ordinary:
it’s the Treblinka station.
No cashier’s window,
No porter in view,
No return tickets,
Not even for a million.
There, no one is waiting,
no one waves a kerchief,
and only silence hovers,
deaf emptiness greets you.
Silent the flagpole,
silent the fir trees,
silent the black sign:
it’s the Treblinka station.
Only an old poster
with fading letters
“Cook with gas.”