Never Shall I Forget

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long
night seven times sealed.
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed
into smoke under a silent sky.
Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith for ever.
Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the
desire to live.
Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned
my dreams to ashes.
Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live
as long as God Himself.
Never.

— Elie Wiesel

A deserted street in Sighet Marmatiei after the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto. Taken May 1944.
Image courtesy: US Holocaust Memorial Museum & Albert Rosenthal

Along with the rest of the town’s Jewish population, fifteen-year-old Elie Wiesel was confined to a ghetto in Máramarossziget (Sighet), Hungary, in March 1944 when the German army occupied the country. In May 1944, the Wiesel family was sent to Auschwitz, where Elie’s sister and mother were murdered. Elie and his father were later sent to Buchenwald, where Elie’s father subsequently died — taken to the crematorium in the middle of the night.

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Freight Trains

Freight trains are pulling in.
A slow clanking
lightly handcuffs
the silent landscape.

Like an escaped prisoner
the moon flies free.

Broken stones rest
on their shadows,
sparkling
for themselves.
They are in place
as never before.

From what huge darkness
was this heavy
night chipped?
It falls on us
as a piece of iron falls
on a speck of dust.

Desire,
born of the sun,
when the bed is embraced
by shadow,
could you keep watch
through that whole night as well?

— Atilla József
(Trans. by John Batki)

Born in 1905, Hungarian poet Atilla József grew up in poverty and distress. Despite many social and economic disadvantages, he managed to earn the equivalent of a high school certificate. Around that same time, he was charged with blasphemy for writing Tiszta szívvel (With a Pure Heart). (He was subsequently acquitted.) Atilla joined the underground Hungarian Communist Party in 1930, but was subsequently run out by a Stalinist faction. In 1931 his book Döntsd a tőkét (Fell the Capital!) was suppressed by Hungarian authorities and his essay Irodalom és szocializmus (Literature and Socialism) was considered to prove his political degeneracy. He struggled to continue his writing career until 1937, when he was hit by a train. Historians are divided as to whether his death was an accident or if he committed suicide.

[Research note: George Gomori and James Atlas, Eds. Atilla József Selected Poems and Texts (Cheadle, Cheshire: Carcanet Press, 1973).]

With a Pure Heart

Without father without mother
without God or homeland either
without crib or coffin-cover
without kisses or a lover

for the third day — without fussing
I have eaten next to nothing.
My store of power are my years
I sell all my twenty years.

Perhaps, if no one else will
the buyer will be the devil.
With a pure heart — that’s a job:
I may kill and I shall rob.

They’ll catch me, hang me high
in blessed earth I shall lie,
and poisonous grass will start
to grow on my beautiful heart.

— Atilla József
(Trans. by Kabdebó Tamás)

Tiszta szívvel

Nincsen apám, se anyám,
se istenem, se hazám,
se bölcsőm, se szemfedőm,
se csókom, se szeretőm.

Harmadnapja nem eszek,
se sokat, se keveset.
Húsz esztendőm hatalom,
húsz esztendőm eladom.

Hogyha nem kell senkinek,
hát az ördög veszi meg.
Tiszta szívvel betörök,
ha kell, embert is ölök.

Elfognak és felkötnek,
áldott földdel elfödnek
s halált hozó fű terem
gyönyörűszép szívemen.

Born in 1905, Hungarian poet Atilla József grew up in poverty and distress. Despite many social and economic disadvantages, he managed to earn the equivalent of a high school certificate. Around that same time, he was charged with blasphemy for writing Tiszta szívvel (With a Pure Heart). (He was subsequently acquitted.) Atilla joined the underground Hungarian Communist Party in 1930, but was subsequently run out by a Stalinist faction. In 1931 his book Döntsd a tőkét (Fell the Capital!) was suppressed by Hungarian authorities and his essay Irodalom és szocializmus (Literature and Socialism) was considered to prove his political degeneracy. He struggled to continue his writing career until 1937, when he was hit by a train. Historians are divided as to whether his death was an accident or if he committed suicide.

[Research note: Thomas Kabdebo, Ed. Attila József Poems (London: The Danubia Book Co., 1966). (http://www.mathstat.dal.ca/~lukacs/ja/poems2/jozsef-eng.htm)%5D

Postcard 4

Final Poem of Miklós Radnóti. Image: Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Final Poem of Miklós Radnóti.
Image: Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

I fell next to him, his body rolled over.
It was already as tight as a string before it snaps.
Shot in the back of the head — “This is how you’ll end.”
“Just lie quietly,” I whispered to myself.
Patience flowers into death now.
“Wait until you see this one blossom,” I heard above me.
Mud mixed with blood was drying on my ear.

Szentkirályszabadja, October 31, 1944

Mellézuhantam, átfordult a teste
s feszes volt már, mint húr, ha pattan.
Tarkólövés. — Így végzed hát te is, —
Súgtam magamnak, — csak feküdj nyugodtan.
Halált virágzik most a türelem. —
Der springt noch auf, — hangzott fölöttem.
Sárral kevert vér száradt fülemen.

Szentkirályszabadja, 1944. Okt. 31.

— Miklós Radnóti

Forced into service by the German army, Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti endured most of World War II in slave-labor camps. In 1944, he collapsed from injury and exhaustion during a forced march toward Berlin. When he was unable to rise, he was shot and buried in a mass grave near the village of Abda. When the grave was exhumed after the end of the war, a small notebook holding Radnóti’s final five poems was found in the front pocket of his overcoat.