Two Poems: Day Four, March 28, 2012


Yad Vashem: Hand to Heart

for Assia


We remember

a young girl

fleeing her Polish town,

her home

as Germans came

and neighbors panicked, cried, prayed

before the ravine.


We remember this girl

as the baker’s door opened,

pulling her in,

coffin lid closing,

their screams penetrating

stale air,

begging to live,

wanting to die.

Saved by a mother’s prayer.


We remember her

wandering fields,


seeking the home her parents

had arranged for her

should something go terribly wrong.

a young girl needs a family.


Blurred identity

Whispering Hebrew at mass,

A mother’s last plea

Sent in a letter

my daughter, my future…live…


She remembers love, devotion,

hope, trust–

two families

now vanished,

a girl alone,

wondering if she is the only Jew left alive.


Hope arrives,

her brother

and a new journey

Russia, Poland, Austria, Italy,

We remember a husband,


Spouses and fellow soldiers,

Palestine and hope,

a homeland returned,

new life.

we remember


the gift

of a story,

so difficult,

offered with trust

that a new generation

might choose love

might choose peace.

~Wendy Warren



I: Logistics

Here everything is sinister.
Everything touches death
And dark memory:
Those tracks
That train
Carries silent shadows
Of screams. That lorry
I saw it in a grainy picture once
Used to be black
And white.

There is no mundane here
Without an icy whisper-
As we wait in the parking lot
Forms must be signed
For the camera crew
Permits to be executed.
Auschwitz, Jacob tells us
With its train tracks
Was an excellent system
For Connecting East and
West Europe
“A matter,
Of course,
Of logistics.”

Logistics, with it’s hidden word
That defies itself here
At Auschwitz.
Or an earlier word, Logos:
In the beginning was Logos
In the end,
at Auschwitz,
Was logistics.

11: First Stop

The sun promises a fair day
And we talked about it at breakfast
Umbrella, or no?
Light coat or heavy
To keep off the chill.
Always talk of the weather when
Talk of the other is too huge. Still,
I look around Auschwitz and
See it could be Michigan, with its birch
And pine copses.
The neat red brick buildings
Could be my comfortable college.
The lovely home like the ones
On my street
Near Crematoria 1, where Hoess’
Children played good soldier
And others died for real.
Juxtaposition. Put anything
Together with any other thing
And it will mean something,
Even if it can’t be understood.
If Gasthinzi could know where
I’m from-
If a Rwandan could tell me in Poland
That he’d been there
To the station
In Niles, Michigan
Where I grew up hearing
Train whistles
Then if you’ll please excuse me
There is nothing outside history
And nothing that is not both
Sacred and profane.
Then this station at
Auschwitz could
Also be mine.

Wanda calls it rush hour
The tide of beautiful youth
The chaos ebbing and flowing in
The barracks and administration buildings
Of Auschwitz 1-
The mix of languages
And jostle of bodies in a rush-
Some elbow past while others
Step gently aside
To wait their turn.
This place has known
It all before. One group
Follows a survivor closely so
They can hear what she sees
In Auschwitz and After:
So they can know
And not know
This black spot at the
Core. Still the sun is
Too bright for a photo
Of the place where those four
Women hanged.

Sacred and profane- I take a picture
Of the video camera filming
Jacob talking into the mic
So we can hear
From across the space
What  is said about
An impossible pile of shorn hair
Or 80,000 shoes
Preserved behind glass
As a memory of the many
Layers that can be put
Between truth
And human. Everywhere
The world is full of inappropriate gestures.
Forgive us we talk about numbers, he said,
But what else can
We do?

111: Rest

At The Centre for Dialogue and
Prayer in Oswiecim
Sondra invites a murmured lunch
If quiet is impossible.
Sister Mary invites us
To listen to the words of this earth-
To listen to the words of our hearts-
I go downstairs alone,
Close my eyes,
And listen.

Part IV: Shiva

After walking the track we climb
The tower and my first
Look at Birkenau steals
My breath. Birkenau
Where breath is stolen
Spreads out before me as far as I
Can see and beyond what I can

We walk.

We break.

One at a time.

Then another.

Irving was here. Gisela.
Others we know or knew
And some we never knew
Except in story
Or in some distant longing
Bound to bone.

At the world’s largest unmarked grave
David remembers Olga
The death of her innocent ones,
And we sit Shiva
In silence.
We pray.
I cry for her
And for so many millions
Here and across Europe
But what else can I do?

At Crematoria 2 Iakov
Translates the Hebrew prayer
Left in memory by a young Israeli
“…And shelter them under Your wings
For eternity, and bind them among the living
That they may rest in peace forever.
And suddenly hope returns.
Can the last to die be first
To return as we turn back towards
The overwhelming present
And face the trembling future?
Near the sauna
A group of young Israelis share the promise
Of Israel with all of us. Christian and Jew
Teacher and student mingle. Languages blend
Again. Shalom they speak in greeting.
We smile.
What else can we do.

Part V: End of the Day

We gather at the restaurant, famished
For what must follow Auschwitz
Our last moment of silence for
The day- we raise our wine glasses
Mark toasts us all
It was a hard day, he says
And it was.
Amid the walls and shelves of Aryana
Crowded with Jewish life
We break bread, talk, and laugh.

Irving told us in New York
The opposite of Auschwitz
Is creation.
And that’s the work ahead of us-
To create meaning
Of juxtaposition: sun and shadow
Auschwitz and Israel
Question and Answer
Death and life.
Set one next to the other and try
To make sense of it all.

~Corey Harbaugh

2 Responses to “Two Poems: Day Four, March 28, 2012”

  1. Katie says:

    Thanks for your kind comments, Julie.

  2. Julie says:

    I am so moved by each day’s posting. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I am learning so much by reading your blogs.Continued safe travels to you all and God bless. Hug Jane, Katie and Tom for me.

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