Song of My Slaughtered People
Thursday, April 19, the Jewish people and their friends will mark another Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day we remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Yitzchak Katznelson, whose prose poem you will read below, was also murdered, along with his wife and three sons. The poem below survives because Yitzchak Katznelson hid it in a bottle and burried it under a tree in the ground of a Nazi concentration camp where he was interened. It was found and published after the war.
At the station, another girl I saw was about five years old. She fed her younger brother, and he cried. He cried, the little one; he was sick. Into a diluted bit of jam she dipped tiny crusts of bread and skillfully inserted them into his mouth. This my eyes were privileged to see, to see this mother, a mother of five years, feeding her child, to hear her soothing words. My own mother, the best in the world, had not invented such a ruse. But this one wiped his tears with a smile, injecting joy into his heart, this little girl of Israel. Sholem Aleichem could not have improved upon her.
They, the children of Israel, were the first in doom and disaster, most of them without father and mother. They were consumed by frost, starvation and lice. Holy Messiahs, sanctified in pain. Why, in days of doom, are they the first victims of wickedness, the first in the trap of evil, the first to be detained for death, the first to be thrown into the wagons of slaughter? They were thrown into the wagons, the huge wagons, like heaps of refuse, like the ashes of the earth. And they transported them, killed them, exterminated them, without remnant or remembrance.
The best of my children were all wiped out, woe unto me, doom and desolation. —Yitzchak Katznelson, Song of My Slaughtered People