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.

Vespers

A lonely flute is singing,
The elegy’s blown off the road.
And yet, it is you I am seeking,
Oh, Mary — the Mother of God!

As tree leaves are carried asunder,
They lose the color they’ve got.
My singing heart does flounder,
Oh, Mary — the Mother of God!

The battered Soul is breaking,
Like tree leaves on Golgotha’s road.
As a prayer, a lone flute is singing,
Oh, Mary — the Mother of God!

— Constantin Oprişan
(Trans. by Constantin Roman)

Constantin Oprişan, date unknown.

Constantin Oprişan, date unknown.

Constantin (Costache) Oprișan opposed the Soviet occupation of Romania after World War II. In 1951, his resistance earned him an arrest and a sentence to 25 years of hard labor. He was incarcerated in the Pitești prison and subjected to “re-education” by torture. From Pitești he was transferred to Gherla prison, where he contracted tuberculosis. In 1958, he was transferred Jilava prison. He died at Jilava in June 1959. His poems exist only because his fellow prisoners memorized them. Oprișan’s work was published for the first time in 2009.

[Research note: English-language sources are scarce, but see the Centre for Romanian Studies.]

Arise George, Arise John!

It is not for the sake of a bread on your table,
it is neither for pastures and nor for the stock,
it is rather for living a peace which is stable:
arise brother George, arise brother John!

For the sake of your kinsmen who died in the ditches
for the hymns that you sang as you stood in the dock
for the tears of the heavens, as you pained in the shackles
arise brother George, arise brother John!

It is not for the anger resounding your body
it’s instead for the sake of your cry to the world,
for the distant horizons with a brimful of planets,
arise brother George, arise brother John!

If you wish to regain all the ancestral freedoms,
through the heavenly gates your admission to gain,
break to pieces the shackles which are cutting your body,
arise brother George, arise brother John!

As prostrate you may wish once again to embrace
all that’s left from the blaze of your family’s hearth
they all gently come back to take hold of your soul
arise brother George, arise brother John!

Arise brother George, by freeing your shackles!
Arise brother John, back again on your bones!
Alight to the Heavens, the tempest abated,
arise brother George, arise brother John!

— Radu Gyr
(Trans. by Roman Constantin)

In 1945, Romanian poet Radu (Demetrescu) Gyr was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in prison for anti-Communist activities. He was released in 1956, but re-arrested by the Securitate in 1958 for his poem Arise George, Arise John! (Ridică-te Gheorghe, ridică-te Ioane!), a call to resist agricultural collectivization. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison, and in 1964, he was released, possibly as a result of international pressure.