Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Poems for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Auschwitz - Camp after liberation (www.auschwitz.org)

27 January is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is 70 years today since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Commemoration events planned this year are particularly extensive, as 70 years is one of the last major anniversaries when a significant number of survivors may still be alive. I think that this may also be considered a potentially dangerous tipping point, when the events of the war become a really distant memory and newer generations may be less and less interested or aware. World events would seem to indicate that in some respects the tipping point has already been reached.

I just wanted to share a few poems and past blog posts which tie into International Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Two poets particularly close to my heart are Paul Celan and Miklós Radnóti. Paul Celan, a German-speaking Jew from Bukovina, lost his parents in the Holocaust and was also interned in a labour camp. He died by suicide in 1970, never able to leave the trauma of his experiences behind. I wrote about Celan's poem 'With a Variable Key', and some reflections on my visit to Auschwitz, here.

Miklós Radnóti was a Hungarian Jew who died on a forced march in 1944. I wrote here about his life and his beautiful poem 'Letter to my wife', published after his death.

Szilárd Borbély, a Hungarian poet who died in 2014, was also the author of The Dispossessed. I was thinking of his poem 'The Matyó Embroidery'. This is a very powerful and distressing poem. The first time I read it, I must say that I started to feel a sense of panic about halfway through when I realised where it was going. I suppose that it should have been obvious where it was going, but the poem's carefully constructed narrative shape makes the whole experience of reading it especially overwhelming.

Finally, Geoffrey Hill's 'September Song' is a short and very sad poem about a child victim of the Holocaust.

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