A Song for My Father

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

It’s been a while, Dad,
since I’ve spoken to you.
For far too many years
I have boiled in anger,
still smarting from
the scalding scars of your indifference.
Rumor has it you loved me as a child,
and then kind of lost interest,
the search for your celebrity,
to be known in the Jewish community,
claimed your undivided attention.
You learned your religion
in the shetls of Lithuania,
and brought your tightly-held beliefs
to this new country.
I tried hard to be your son,
but all I learned was
singing in a different language
had little to do with me.
You studied medicine in Europe,
escaped the Nazis by a hair,
but healing proved secondary
to your reading of the Torah.
If I never sang for you,
you never sang for me.
For others you sang
the wisdom of the Law,
the miracle of modern medicine.
You wrote articles for the Forward,
and gave medical advice over the airways.
I suppose I must be grateful
for the gifts you have strewn my way.
What gifts? Writing, for one.
I doubt I could ever pen these lines
if I hadn’t typed your columns,
corrected your grammar.
Your gift was not in the giving;
it was imparted by your presence.
So thank you, anyway, I guess, though
it’s too late for you to understand my song.
I do wish, even now, your largess
could have been more personally delivered.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years.  Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Remembering The Shoah Through Words and Action

by Janet R. Kirchheimer (New York, NY)

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Germany, I grew up with stories of the Shoah. I was recently asked if I recalled the exact moment I learned about what happened to my family. I answered no, there was no exact moment. It was always there. The knowledge seemed to have come through my mother’s milk.

I was that curious kid who asked about the kinds of foods my parents ate in Germany, what school was like, what clothing they wore, what life was like before Hitler came to power. I also began to ask questions about what happened to our family. As I got older, the questions became more serious. I asked my father to tell me about how he and his family hid in the basement of their home during the rioting of Kristallnacht in 1938, of what it felt like to be sixteen years old and be ordered to report to Town Hall the next morning and to be arrested and sent to Dachau.

There was the night my mother and I sat at the kitchen table and she told me about the kids in her kindergarten class who backed her up against a wall at school and threw rocks at her because she refused to say “Heil Hitler.” She told me how her parents got her out to a Jewish girls’ orphanage, The Israelitisch Meijesweishaus, in Amsterdam. We talked about her father’s nine brothers and sisters, of how only he and one brother and sister survived. My father and I spoke about his family, those who survived and those who did not. His mother, father, older sister who was twenty-two and his younger brother who was eleven. They got out of Germany to Maastricht, Holland and in August 1942 were deported to Westerbork and in November 1942 to Auschwitz and murdered upon arrival.

I had so many stories inside of me and poetry became the way to tell them. After writing and writing for almost fifteen years, in 2007 my book “How to Spot One of Us” was published.

Since publication, I have been speaking in public and private schools and for various organizations. I have told my family’s stories of life before the Holocaust, of trying to escape, of failing, of succeeding, of coming to America and learning a new language, becoming American citizens and of beginning, again. In my poetry, it is my goal to give voice to the dead. In my teaching, my goal is to encourage students to remember and study about the Holocaust and our world today, a world that is still rife with genocide.

Over the last two years I have become involved in other ways to remember the Shoah. I’m working with Emmy Award-winning director Richard Kroehling on BE•HOLD, a cinematic documentary that explores poetry, written by Jews and non-Jews, about the Holocaust from the rise of Nazism to the present. Poems are showcased by poets, survivors and their descendents. I am also part of a multi-media exhibit about children of survivors with photographer Aliza Augustine showing at The Kean University Human Rights Institute Gallery, consisting of my poetry and film and her portraits and photography.

I believe that the past is not simply in the past, but rather a vital part of the present and future. Seventy years ago, WWII ended. The last survivors of the Holocaust are aging and passing away. I feel it is my responsibility to remember and continue to tell the stories of my family before, during and after the Shoah in the hopes it will never happen again to anyone.

Jewish wisdom teaches that remembrance must include action. As a child, I was taught by my parents that every human being is created in God’s image and that is the way I should treat each person I meet. Our actions, small or large can help change the world. Whether it is treating the stranger with dignity or being active in causes to stop genocide, we each can remember the Shoah in our own way thus honoring the murdered and the survivors.

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How to Spot One of Us (2007).  She is currently producing BE•HOLD, a cinematic poetry performance filmhttps://www.facebook.com/BeholdAPerformanceFilm.  Her work has appeared in journals and on line in such publications as Atlanta Review, Limestone, Connecticut Review, Lilith, Natural Bridge and on beliefnet.com.  She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and received Honorable Mention in the String Poet Prize 2014. 

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My Father’s Family

by Suzanna Eibuszyc (Calabasas, CA)

My parents both grew up in a large, closely knit family. My father’s loyalty and love of his family was one of the things that attracted my mother to him. The thought of going home to Poland, back to their families, was what kept them alive during their six years in Russia. Family represented a place of safety and a source of strength.

There is one story that resonates with me to this very day. My father’s family had a tradition. My mother had told me how for generations, his extended family gathered in a small house, in the woods, for two months every summer outside of the city of Łódź. Adults and children came together to exchange ideas, enjoy each other’s company, and share good food. To me, this was like a picture taken out of a romantic, Victorian novel. I could see them dressed in their best white linens, entertaining each other. Lounging, talking, laughing, and playing loudly among the trees and green grass.

Abram Ejbuszyc was silent about his past. He never uttered a word about what happened to him during the war or about what his life had been like before the war. From my mother’s stories, I know that he did not want to die in a Russian jail after he was arrested for not wanting to give up his Polish citizenship. His only wish was to stay alive in order to come back home to Poland. He made it back only to find his entire family had been murdered. He was the sole survivor. This knowledge pushed him into a dark despair from which he never recovered. He became silent. I cannot help but wonder if his silence was a form of self-imposed punishment.

Studies have shown that there are two kinds of parents among survivors—those who cannot connect and those who cannot separate from their children. My mother could not separate herself from her two daughters. It was as if she was afraid she would lose us at any moment. To live, my father had forsaken his family and consciously or unconsciously, he chose to suffer the consequences alone. He was tormented by survivor’s guilt; the terror was visible, inscribed on his stern face and in his sad eyes. The shock of finding out about the Holocaust and not knowing how his loved ones died resulted in nightmares, anxieties, and depression. My father detached himself from us, as if he was afraid to make a close connection and lose his loved ones all over again. By not talking, he contained the trauma he lived with, hoping not to pass it on to his children. He became a stranger to the new family he created after the war and we were deprived of a loving father. To this day, I know only that my father fled Łódź. The Germans were rounding up Jewish men and deporting them to labor camps. He ran, and in so doing, he saved his own life, abandoning his mother, father and two sisters. He was never able to forgive himself.

My father’s family came from Jews of Włoszczowa, a small town not far from the city of Łódź, they settled there in the second half of the nineteenth century. Father’s extended large family in Łódź was religious, prosperous, and well-known in the community. He came from philanthropists who supported the arts and gave money toward education. They all died in the Łódź Ghetto and in Auschwitz.

After the war, he returned to Łódź to find that his large family was decimated. My father never learned the details: that his father, Icek Dawid Ejbuszyc, his mother, Ita Mariem Grinszpanholc, and his older sister, Sura Blima, were deported from the Łódź Ghetto to Auschwitz in September of 1942. A hospital record shows that his younger sister Dwojra died of Unterernährung, of malnutrition, in June of 1942. She was thirty years old. I was able to uncover this information about my father’s family in recent years. When those records became available through documentation centers, however, this information was not accessible in the first few decades after the war when my father was still alive.

A document survived the war proving that my father’s family did in fact exist and prospered in the city of Łódź. A deed to real estate made my father the owner of two homes that before the war belonged to his parents. These properties were both plundered by the Germans during the war and then taken over by Polish Communists after the war. Because survivors from Russia were forced to settle in the southwestern part of Poland as part of repatriation, my father was not allowed to return to the city of his birth. After the war, property that was not destroyed ended up in the hands of ethnic Poles. Many Poles did not expect that their Jewish neighbors survived and will be returning home. They falsified papers and claimed real estate property as theirs.

My father discovered in the courthouse records unfamiliar names on the titles of his family properties. While he was alive, he traveled regularly to the courthouse in the city of Łódź and fought to reclaim his parents’ two houses. As the Communist regime took over, it took control of all private properties. People like my father lost all rights to what belonged to them. After the collapse of Communism, the Polish government estimated that the value of all the property belonging to the survivors and their descendants to be in the billions. At the same time, and to this day, Poland has not recognized property restitution or compensation for any of the survivors, Jewish or non-Jewish.

My father endured an impoverished exile with only one hope, to return to his homeland. His mind was forever haunted by memories of never saying good-bye to his family. He spent years trying to find traces to his family’s summer house. There was no closure for my father; he never was able to reunite with any of the physical remnants of his family’s happy past as if to tell him those happy days never took place. He survived Russia, and died alone on a very cold December day in 1961, far from his new home in a hospital in Klodzko. My mother, my sister, and I, while very much alive, were shadows in his life after the war. It was not that he did not deserve us, but that he was unable to emerge from his despair. He simply could not recover from what he had lost.

Born in Poland, Suzanna Eibuszyc graduated from CCNY where she took classes in the department of Jewish studies with Professor Elie Wiesel, who encouraged her to translate her mother’s memoir into English. This piece is from her new book, Memory Is Our Home, published by ibid-Verlag, in which she attempts to “shed light on how the Holocaust trauma is transmitted to the next generation, the price my family paid when we said good-bye to the old world, and the challenges we faced in America.”

This excerpt is from Memory Is Our Home by Suzanna Eibuszyc, (c) 2015 ibidem Press/ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany. ISBN 978-3-8382-0712-4 (US paperback); ISBN 978-3-8382-0682-0 (EU paperback); 978-3-8382-9732-2 (Hardback). Pages 145-147, reprinted with the kind permission of the author and her publisher.

If you’d like to order a copy of the book, visit: 

UShttp://cup.columbia.edu/book/memory-is-our-home/9783838207124

http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Our-Home-Remembering-Generations/dp/3838207122/ref=sr_1_1/183-8888061-1272939?ie=UTF8&qid=1427124207&sr=8-1&keywords=Eibuszyc

EUhttp://www.ibidemverlag.de/product_info.php?language=en&gm_boosted_product=Memory-is-our-Home&XTCsid=6063e8185eac56a71ac51cd3104518e7&Edition-No-ma=Memory-is-our-Home.html&products_id=1715&=&XTCsid=6063e8185eac56a71ac51cd3104518e7

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To My Children Who Know Nothing About Passover

by Richard Epstein (Washington, DC)

Your grandpa passed away some twenty years ago
and so have his Passover Seders.  Every year, he used
two chairs.  As I write this, I am there.  Time stops
like a turtle on its back, legs flaying wildly in the air.

The house is scrubbed, the windows cleaned.  Two sets
of pots and pans, dishes and dinnerware are retrieved
from boxes and paper bags stored in the cellar.
The dining room table is set, wine glasses filled red.
Your grandmother places the Seder Plate on the table
while Grandpa says a blessing and washes his hands
at the kitchen sink.  Grandpa holds the Seder Plate
for all to see and explains each item.

“…because we were slaves in Egypt…,” he would say.
He breaks the middle matzah in its covered plate, wraps
half in a napkin and places it under the tablecloth by his chair.
As we turn our attention to the Haggadah, he moves
the wrapped matzah under the pillow on his second chair.

At the table sits Grandpa’s sister, Aunt Rose, always first
to disapprove of something said or done but with a grand smile
and poised in exemplary posture. There’s cousin Lilly, gray haired,
too thin, always wary of an un-approving look from her pal, Aunt Rose.

There is usually a guest (a boarder or family friend), my brother,
home from the Navy;  my sister and her husband (a cross  between
Kojack and Yul Brynner) and their three pre-teen daughters. Sitting
closest to the kitchen is my mother, always with a pleasant smile.

Our dog watches from the edge of the kitchen as we begin
the Four Questions.  My sister recites in Yiddish, her daughters
recite in Hebrew.  I ask permission as an Ashkenaz and after
a nod I sing each question as smooth and faultless as I can.

We listen to the tale of the Four Sons (the wise, the wicked, the simple,
and the one who doesn’t know enough to ask).  I am satisfied in not
knowing which role I am cast.  The Haggadah reminds us Moses was given
up at the river’s edge to save his life and he came to live as a palace prince.

We tip our wine glasses ten times as we recall each plague cast upon the land
and our escape through the Red Sea.  We eat scallions dipped in saltwater
(to remind us of spring and life’s sorrows); a hardboiled egg in saltwater
(I always plead more); home-made gefilte fish with horseradish, grated
the night before; matzah ball soup; brisket, crowned with onion
and an obedient audience of  browned potatoes; and four glasses
of  sweet, red wine, each with a blessing before and after the meal.

I open the front door to welcome Elijah. The red goblet at the center
of the table is filled just for him.  As I stand in the cold night air, I scan
the sky for a winged angel on horseback with a long black sword dripping
with blood and edged in flame.

Back inside we remind the young to barter with Grandpa for
the afikoman they stole.  (It  must be redeemed to complete
the meal.) We end a long evening with bellies too full and we
open our books to find Chad Gadya.

In these days, Grandpa is just a word and Passover is something
you may have once heard.  Both flow  warm in my blood
and give strength to bone.  If I were a sunflower, I’d bow
my head low.  For too soon, there will be no one left to remember.

Richard Epstein lives in the Washington DC area and is active in the Warrior Poets sponsored by Walter Reed Medical Center, the Veterans Writing Project and he hosts an open mic venue for veterans and friends of veterans on the National Mall 

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Anniversary

by Jacqueline Jules (Arlington, VA)

Eight years after
the seven-day candle in the tall red glass,
I light a small candle
and consider your existence
in a realm beyond my knowledge.
If life on earth is only one stage in a series,
you could be safe in an ethereal cocoon,
preparing to emerge with splendid wings in Eden.
I’m ashamed to say
your transformation into something better
brought little comfort to me in the beginning,
as I decried my status as a caterpillar,
a frightened worm, vulnerable to a large and hungry bird.

Living without you
was never as difficult
as living with your death.
The burial of a face
that still smiles at me in photographs
seemed, at times, slightly less credible
than spaceships landing on my lawn.
If I believed in death before,
it was the same way I believed in another universe
and other life forms—somewhere out there—
I wasn’t prepared . . . .

To light a candle every year in place of going out to dinner,
seeing a play or planning a party. This summer
would have marked twenty-five years together.
Would we have gone dancing? A little circle
of light flickers on the ceiling, waltzing with the shadows.
I smile. You are dancing for me,
whirling in the endless light of memory.

Jacqueline Jules is the author of many Jewish children’s books including Never Say a Mean Word Again, The Hardest Word, Once Upon a Shabbos, Sarah Laughs, Miriam in the Desert, and Goodnight Sh’ma. Visit her at www.jacquelinejules.com

“Anniversary” appears in Stronger Than Cleopatra, a collection of poems about going forward in the face of loss. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. For more about the book, visit ELJ Publishing at http://www.booknook-eljpublications.com/store/p4/Stronger_Than_Cleopatra.html

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Arbeit Macht Frei

by Sarah Lamstein (Newton, MA)

Too weak for work
I go to the showers.
Death cradles my skull like Leah,
who stroked my thin hair
on a barrack’s shelf.
Skeletal, she picked at lice.

Leah, I am clean.

“Arbeit Macht Frei,” a poem from Sarah Lamstein’s new poetry chapbook Breathless (https://finishinglinepress.com/index.php?cPath=2&sort=2a&filter_id=1773&osCsid=1991mtbm3me2vfeesi6ddoa8c6), was submitted in response to Janet Kircheimer’s Jewish Writing Project post on her film about poets’ responses to the Holocaust.

Sarah Lamstein’s children’s books include Annie’s Shabbat and Letter on the Wind/A Chanukah Tale. She lives in Newton, MA.

 

Website: www.sarahlamstein.com

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Why Fathers Are Unreasonable

by David E. Marshall (Modi’in, Israel)

To you now swimming
in the sea of your mother’s womb
Where do I begin in telling you
about life, this earth, that moon?
Shall I crush your innocence with Genesis
in one bedtime bible story blow?
What about tennis, Beethoven and photosynthesis?
These are all important things to know.
Isaac trusted Abraham and so you will with me,
Exact a trust so strong that it cannot be unbound.
Together we shall climb life’s tree
And scrape our knees on knowledge yet unfound.
And when your dreams are grown and you leave home’s gate
Tell me that you’ll know no father’s love was ever so great
as mine.

David E. Marshall has made his home in Modi’in, Israel for the past 20 years. Originally from Sharon, Massachusetts, he is a first generation American, the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany on his mother’s side and of a student refugee from Iraq on his father’s side. He holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an M.B.A. from Northeastern University.

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