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1. Index Number : P.III.h. (Theresienstadt) No. 865.

2. Title of Document : Theresienstadt Poems.

3. Date : 1941 - 1945.

4. Number of pages : 19.

Language : German.

5. Author or Source :

      Anneliese Benning

      Elise Haas, formerly Trier

      Max Mendelsohn

      Rose Scooler

      Gerty Spiess

      Leo Strauss

      Ilse Weber

6. Received from : Dr. H.G. Adler, London, 1957.

7. Recorded : between 1941 - 1945 at Deggendorf D.P. Camp.

8. Form and Contents : A collection of poems written in Theresienstadt. Practically all of them reflect the sorrow and loneliness of the authors. The author of four of the poems is not known, one of them is supposed to be Aryan.


Theresienstadt Poems  1941 – 1945

(Collected at Deggendorf D.P. Camp in 1945/1946


 - 1 - 

1941

Today I saw a thousand people with distraught expressions;

Today I saw a thousand Jews wandering into the void.

Into the cold, grey morning this crowd of the condemned was walking,

And behind them faded that which once was their life.

They crossed through the gate and knew – there’s no return!

And left, out there, possessions, status, happiness and all.

Where will you be taken, where does your journey end?

They only know one thing: their destination is the barbed wire.

And what awaits is misery, suffering, need,

Privation, hunger, epidemic, for many a bitter death.

I looked into their eyes with brotherly gaze,

Expecting deepest wretchedness in such misfortune.

Yet, instead of despair I saw a monumental effort

To keep composure and self-discipline, shining from their eyes’

I saw the will to live, saw hope and courage

And saw in many a face a smile, strong and kind.

Then, deeply moved, I recognised the spirit of this people,

That, chosen to suffer, always withstood their suffering,

That, despite trouble and misery, banishment, slavery and incarceration

Rose up again with an unbroken strength.

Today I saw a thousand people with distraught expressions

And, in the grey of morning, saw the ray of the eternal light.

(The author is unknown, supposedly of Aryan background.

This poem was circulating in Berlin in 1941/42.)


- 2 -

K.Z. (Concentration Camp)

Bare walls, plain white, pock-marked with dirt,

Dark rows of bunk beds, open,

Thirst and hunger, fear and plagues of bugs

Until the dawn.

Quiet weeping, whispers, moaning, and lamenting,

Terror, loneliness – the scream of longing.

Slowly, night creeps by,

A day begins like many days.

Peculiarly different are the air, the light.

Everything that ever was is different.

And you no longer know if this is really you,

You do not know yourself.

Bare walls, plain white, pock-marked with dirt,

Men, women, children, pressed together tightly,

Human beings who are not allowed to live as humans anymore,

Poor human beings who are tortured and oppressed

Until the dawn.

Until, one day, dawn comes.

Anneliese Benning, Terezin


- 3 -

Reddish-white cat in the garden

One day, there she was,

Reddish-skirted with white paws,

Fine and delicate with a pink mouth.

Did destiny brutally drive her

From a beautiful, friendly home,

Had her owner died

Or moved abroad?

Useless questions - - -

                                          There she is,

She came and stayed with a small kitten

That she suckles in the tall grass. 

Gently flattering, she seeks out hands

To stroke and feed her.

Little mother . . .

Without questioning her future;

Without regrets for the past

She says “Yes” to her life,

Lives and loves . . . .

Lives in beauty: without worry. . . .  free . . .

 

Elise Haas, formerly Trier.


- 4 -

Terezin Prayer

O Lord, you granted me a ripe old age;

I overcame a number of misfortunes,

But now I have just one great plea:

O Lord, please let me see my children once again.

Let me assure myself that they are happy,

That they are living in tranquillity and peace,

Then I will end my life without regret,

Then I will close my eyes without regret.

But let me live until my wish is granted,

Until I close my arms around my children,

But let not too much time pass until then,

Because my longing is so infinitely strong.

Max Mendelsohn


- 4 -

Trip to purloin coal

Pitch-dark it was, so just the right conditions

To make another trip to steal some coal.

With our bags slung over, we went down;

You could not see your hand before your eyes.

Arm in arm we walked. “Now pay attention

Somewhere down there must be the pump.”

With luck we managed to avoid it

And stumbled on, up hill and dale.

Here comes the path; thank goodness, it is lit.

Now we approach the middle of the street

And, step by step, we feel our way ahead,

Until we reach the brewery door.

“Will the guards have gone to sleep already?”

Firstly, we reconnoitre the terrain.

Alas, we hear the sound of heavy footsteps,

So we stroll by just harmlessly.

Now it is quiet. Quickly we begin our task

And our bags are half-filled at this point

When suddenly behind us a gate opens

From where a bright light shines outside.

We run for our lives

Thinking that this is our end.

Our hearts are beating full of fear,

But, thanks to God, we have not been detected!

Should we be satisfied with half-full bags?

“Not on your nelly, we are proud Berliners!

Again, we throw ourselves into the fun,

Straight into it, before we go back home!”

When we consider that the coast is clear, we sneak

Again towards the hill of coal, full of bravado and of courage.

This time – success. We fill the bags right to the brim

And carry off the goods so arduously won.

They weigh us down, our arms at breaking point

From that which we have swiped so happily.

At home, the booty is doled out,

Proudly and radiant, to all our people.

Rose Scooler, Terezin, March 1945


- 6 -

Two walls are sunk into the valley,

Two walls, steep and red.

And in the depth, poor and narrow

Slumbers, unmoving, the canal –

Everything else is still and dead.

A meagre lawn grows miserly.

In cold-rigid air

A black choir of crows scatters.

At the slope stands silent a dark gate –

It leads to the vault of death.

Gerty Spies, Terezin, Winter 1943/44


- 7 -

At Night

The wind is howling,

The rain is running

Down onto roofs and planks.

Oh, tell me, my child

Where I can find you,

When we will meet again!

The world is vast,

Into the lap

Of earth we are drawn down.-

You are poor and bare,

Without a home!-

You will never see your child again.

Gerty Spies, Terezin, Winter 1943/44


- 8 -

Autumn 1943

Two children are crying here, and there a woman is sobbing.

Pain triumphs, and the weather.

The sun is beaming, and the sky is blue

And golden leaves are falling.

Gerty Spies, Terezin


- 9 -

Our World Has Shrunk

Our world has shrunk and we can cross it quickly,

There is nothing between North and South except 9Q and 6L.

30,000 people are squashed together in a narrow carousel,

They have to squeeze together obediently between 9Q and 6L.

If the sun lures you outside, if the world seems wide and bright,

There is still no path beyond 9Q and 6L.

World that we have left behind, wide free world good-bye,

We are alive and yet entombed within 9Q and 6L.

Leo Strauss, Terezin


- 10 -

Purim in the Ghetto

The crowds are multi-facetted

As they travel to the Jewish Ghetto.

Young people, old people,

Men, women, widows, brides,

Poor and rich and tall and small.

Everyone lives by themselves,

Does not know the other’s thoughts,

Does not know what hurts the other.

Yet in the new Jewish Ghetto

They are nothing but just Jews,

So and so many thousand items

Have to stick together tightly.

One’s own home and one’s own life

Were left behind in one’s own country.

There are Jews – but also Christians,

Believers and also Atheists,

Germans, Poles, or Czechs,

All speaking different languages:

People from all over the world,

Not connected by anything,

Not their origin, not their customs,

Not their faiths and not their rites.

Yet in the new Jewish Ghetto

They are nothing but just Jews,

So and so many thousand items,

Have to stick together tightly,

Stranger living amongst strangers,

A misery to themselves and all.

But, when celebrating the festival

All the grey veils fall

Because we see how suffering and death

Have threatened us again and again

And how, after such experiences,

Redemption came about each time.

And we know what unites us:

Tears that we have shed.

This is why, with or without a ghetto,

We are nothing but just Jews.


- 11 -

A Terezin Lullaby

Rock-aby, children, now go to sleep,

Boy from Bohemia, girl from the Rhine.

When you arrived, you were strangers,

Both of you lost your home.

Now you sleep peacefully in the same room,

And smile at a similar childish dream.

Far from our suffering and far from torment

Rock-aby, children, now go to sleep.

Ilse Weber, Terezin


- 12 -

A Woman Peeling Potatoes

I peel potatoes all day long

With a hundred other women.

I sit in this damp shed

From the early sunrise.

I sit and do not hear a word

Of what the women speak.

My thoughts are far away

While my hands are peeling.

My thoughts are full of pain,

With my daughter, missing in Poland.

The others can be happy

And joke and even laugh.

The brown tubers roll away

And pile up in the baskets.

My son was taken to Dachau.

Why did God let him die?

And hour upon hour slowly creeps by,

My hands are sore and hard.

My grandchild died in the typhus clinic,

When will my life end?

Potatoes, potatoes, day in, day out,

Peeling, peeling forever,

They creep into my dreams at night

To torture me even then.

The peelings come alive and curl

And turn into hissing snakes,

They follow me and strangle me

Until I am caught without mercy.

And a new day comes around again,

And I sit in the early dawn

Peeling potatoes in a damp shed,

With a hundred other women.

Ilse Weber, Terezin


- 13 -

The Sheep of Lidice

Fluffy, yellow-white sheep are trotting through the streets,

Two shepherdesses follow the herd, their song drifts through the dusk.

It is an image full of peace, and yet, one stops, shaken,

As if one felt the cruel breath of death pass by.

Fluffy, yellow-white sheep, they are far from home;

Burnt down are their stables, their masters are killed.

Alas, all the men of the village, they all died the same death,

A small village in Bohemia, and so much misfortune and misery.

The hard-working women who cared for the flock are displaced,

The happy children who so loved the lambs are missing,

The little houses, once a place of peace, are now in ruins,

A whole village destroyed, and only the animals saved.

These are the sheep of Lidice, and in the right place,

In the town of the homeless, the animals without home.

Enclosed by a wall, united by a cruel fate,

The most tortured people on earth and the saddest flock on earth.

Ilse Weber, Terezin


- 14 -

Transport to Poland

A transport to Poland is about to happen,

It hovers like a nightmare above the house,

The group elders hurry and chase

And pretend not to be affected.

One glances at them shyly and fearfully

Thinking, shuddering: “ Will it be me today?”

One wants to distance oneself as far as one can

From the fateful strip of paper.

It seems as though, on silent soles,

Misfortune stalks the barracks.

We are so terribly scared of the Poles

And don’t even quite know why.

Whether it is suffering or death awaiting us there,

Nobody can report to us,

And yet, going to Poland is worse than dying,

Because for the dead there is peace.

Tomorrow it’s you, even if it is another’s fate today;

We are all unprotected and without rights

And have to wander on without peace

As the tormented children of Ahasveros.

Ilse Weber, Terezin


- 15 -

Transport of Old People

A trail of tired old people moves through the streets,

Heavily laden, bent over figures,

Towards the railway station.

With eyes, unable to see through tears,

They walk on.

Torn from their children, driven away once again,

Robbed of the last few items that remained,

So they move silently.

Within their hearts, worn down with horror,

The name of the Almighty rises, in despair,

A plaintive WHY?

So they walk on into the autumnal morning,

And, hidden, behind closed windows

Eyes are following them.

Alas, to speak a few kind words to them,

To carry the heavy burden for a small part of the way,

What sad happiness.

But no, we are not allowed to support the arm

That ever was prepared to shelter us with love

From worry and misfortune.

We are not permitted to embrace the old ones lovingly,

We have to let them walk alone

Into the solitude.

Ilse Weber, Terezin


- 16 -

Food Distribution in the Yard of the Barracks

They came in their hundreds, on poor, muddy paths,

And now they are waiting long and patiently in front of cooks and cauldrons.

Amongst them stand , painfully, frail old people and the sick,

Greed, shame, disgust, desire in their harrowed faces.

With shaking hands they proffer their bowls, like beggars,

Tortured by pangs of hunger, never satisfied.

They pick out rotten potatoes from dirty puddles,

They are so old and tired, and there is no one to support them.

They greedily approach the empty troughs like animals,

And, hungry still, they go back to their miserable quarters.

Ilse Weber, Terezin


- 17 -

Terezin

Small feverish hands,

Little tired eyes,

Sick child –

Terezin

Snow-white hair,

Old man on a stretcher,

Withered leaf –

Terezin.

A sea of tears,

Endless longing

That has no home:

Terezin.


- 18 -

Creation

When you listen to your inner being, don’t you hear

How, from the depths, it speaks to you,

Weighs up the words so strangely, according to their value, weight,

That many a rhyme, quite overwhelmed with light,

Made to stand out so proudly in its shimmer –

Is circled by the others, giving praise.

And if you want to change it: look, you shatter

Its meaning and its harmony. – You are mere face,

Mere shell, humble and simple,

Just like the oyster and the pearl. Not you

Are shaping it : another speaks.


- 19 -

As If

I know a little town,

A little town so neat,

I won’t give you its name,

I call it : Town As If.

Not everyone can enter

This town, oh no,

They have to be selected

From the race of the As Ifs.

They live in it their lives

As if it were a life,

Are happy with the rumours

As if they were the truth.

The people in the streets,

They run along at speed –

If one has nothing to do

One simply acts as if.

They even have a café

Just like Café L’Europe,

And with a song and music

One feels in it as if.

Some people may be some time

With someone sometimes rough.

At home he was no someone,

And here he acts as if.

Each morning and each evening

One drinks the as-if coffee;

On Saturday, yes Saturday

One gets some as-if hash.

One queues up for the soup

As if it had some substance,

And one enjoys the codfish

As if it’s vitamin.

One lies down on the floor

As if it were a bed

And thinks of all one’s loved ones

As if one had some news.

One bears the heavy destiny

As if it were quite light,

And talks about the future

As if it were tomorrow.

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