Halina Birenbaum--Polish/Israeli

Halina Birenbaum
(1929-    )


Born in Warsaw in 1929, Halina Birenbaum is a writer, poet and translator.  A Holocaust survivor, Birenbaum was assigned to Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and Neustadt-Glewe camps.  She was just fifteen when she was liberated from Neustadt-Glewe concentration camp.  She relocated to Israel in 1947.  In 2001 she received the Polish Person of Unity award, Rada Chrzescijan i Żydów.  Her most important work, Hope is the Last to Die, is regarded as an important contribution to Holocaust literature.  She has a number of books of poetry published in Polish and Hebrew.



they say that they are bitter pungent,

they choke, suffocate

they burn eyes, cause wrinkles everyone is afraid and ashamed of them

they are considered a sign of weakness,

effeminacy an expression of adversity, sickness,

mourning people run away from their sight,

hide behind them

for me it is much worse when they are not there

when their source dries out

this means that I am numb

that nothing can move or affect me anymore

that I don't know how to worry don’t know how to be glad

that I have given up the fightthat nothing is left to conquer,

desire or experience anymore

it means that I don't care about anybody

and no one cares about me

therefore I am a stone a living corps

for me tears are necessary

I have to feel their burning fire under my eyelids

feel their wet warm trace on my face that cramp in my throat

that shiver in my bodythat quickened heart beat before

they appear I have to feel their welcome

beneficial warmth

that burning pain of bitterness, indignation or protest

I have to see them in other people's eyes

like a reflection and a response of their emotions

which are in me and grow in others toward me for me tears are very precious

they are a cleansing form of life's evil dust from mediocrity, weariness, contempt

a rebirthrenewaltears are sincerity, the truth, human sufferingsbut also human gladness

tears can show human soul often hurt, wretched and embittered but often radiant, rejoiced never stone hearted

for me tears are necessary to feel alive to show that I have a heart

and that I am truly a human being


I remember myself as a small girl from the Warsaw Ghetto
I remember myself from those days
as a small girl
who walked the noisy streets
in spite of the cruelty
I remember looking at the people
at the big buildings
at the sky and at the consistent sun
rising my face to them, warming myself
in that remote sun
at night through my window I counted stars
trying to foretell the future:
will there be for me another tomorrow
will I be still alive the next night?
I remember those people
who hurried through crowded streets
their clothes, faces—glances
countless times I pushed my way among them, watching
wishing to grow up faster—to be their equal
they seemed to me then powerful, eternal
in spite of that cursed fear
they were so full of life, constant movement
inconceivably ingenious
later I have seen the same streets abandoned and empty
I was taken through those deaden streets
in the midst of the rubble of burned buildings
those powerful crowds were missing among the living
only that usual sky
far away stars
and the sun